This is World Book Day, but it’s also still Fairtrade Fortnight, and books and Fairtrade go together – not because authors are underpaid, though most of us are – but because there are thousands of kids in the world who never get a chance to learn. This is sometimes because they are girls, but mostly because they’re poor, and the children work and help keep the family going. I wrote in an earlier blog about the wonderful work that’s being done in Cairo, educating the children of the waste recyclers. But every time you buy a Fairtrade product, you're not only giving producers a fair price for their product, but also subscribing to a raft of benefits for the community.
Part of the price of Fairtrade goods is what's called the Fairtrade premium, and the producers choose what they will spend this on – examples are farm inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides, but also, importantly, medical expenses and school fees. To give one example, the Kavokiva cooperative in southeastern Côte d’Ivoire, which produces cocoa beans. In this region, the illiteracy rate among agricultural communities is as high as 95%. Many schools are badly equipped and too far away for children to attend every day. Kavokiva was Fairtrade certified for cocoa in 2004. Although the global recession has hindered sales, the Fairtrade premium has helped the cooperative to build schools in some villages where the government school was too far away. It has helped furnish classrooms and blackboards, and other supplies. It also distributes scholarships to that the members’ children can pay school fees.
Clearly, one still has to scout around to find Fairtrade products in many areas – though the Waitrose coffee and tea shelves are a joy to behold – but things are looking up. You can buy Fairtrade avocados, fruit, chocolate, coffee, tea, honey, nuts, apricots, beauty products and goods made from Fairtrade cotton, to name but a few. Tate and Lyle, Cadburys, and Kit-Kats are some mainstream companies who have recently made Fairtrade commitments. I bought several T-shirts made with Fairtrade cotton from Marks and Spencers last year. I plan to email people like Marks and Sparks and say you’d like to be able to get more Fairtrade products even than they sell at the moment. I also mean to write to other chocolate producers and egg them on to go Fairtrade – but the Co-op does a nice chocolate bar, and Traidcraft Swiss chocolate is brill! Green and Blacks’s Maya Gold chocolate is Fairtrade, of course.
On the topic of books, I’m shamelessly using the column to make a plug for another charity, which is Bookaid International. They make books available to kids in Sub-Saharan Africa, Palestine and Sri Lanka. You can find out more on their site, url below. In Kenya, they help provide a camel mobile library service!! This is an idea that appeals to me greatly.
For as long as I can remember, books have lit up my life, but I had the benefits of being brought up in a highly literate family, having a good, state-funded education, and having, from the time I was very small, access to free libraries. I know many of you will have had similar advantages. But the relative wealth and privilege of our own country – the recession notwithstanding – has too often been bought at the expense of other people in poorer countries. The Fairtrade Foundation - and Bookaid - are working to change all that.
Look for the Fairtrade marque on Fairtrade products - I meant to put it in here, but couldn't manage the technicalities of downloading it! I'm sorry, daffy authors... But you can see it on the products I've mentioned above, or at their website.
I've found out one can help fund Bookaid (and other charities) by shopping at a range of online retailers, Amazon, Tesco, Asda, Next, M and S, John Lewis, Ebay, Comet – and more – via a site called The Giving Machine. There’s also a thing called the Reverse Book Club. For three pounds a month you can buy 36 books every year for people who need them.