A recent survey across 22 countries found that emergency funds are providing some relief to fair trade farmers, workers, and fishermen impacted by COVID-19.
Following an initial survey in April, Fair Trade USA conducted this second and most recent survey to 85 farms, cooperatives, factories, and fisheries in July. While the impacts were less severe than anticipated at the onset of the pandemic, findings show that producers still face many operational challenges, especially reduced demand and thus reduced income. The majority have used their emergency funds, which Fair Trade USA made available in March, to aid in direct relief. Many are also working to implement effective social distancing protocols.
Producers are still struggling with decreased demand and reduced income.
The survey found that the number-one operational challenge for producers is reduced income. This is brought on by a combination of factors:
Reduced demand. 55% of respondents report a decrease in demand since mid-April, down from 67% at the onset of the pandemic. A majority of respondents are also experiencing reduced production capacity and workforces.
Lack of transportation. Lack of transportation is a major issue across supply chains and countries. Efforts to reduce crowding on public transportation have made it difficult to impossible for farmers and workers who rely on transportation to get to and from work and earn an income. Migrant workers are especially susceptible because they lack safe transportation to and from their home communities. Meanwhile, weakened supply chain transport and logistics have made it impossible in some cases to physically deliver goods.
Because of these struggles, there is simply less work in many industries. Migrant workers in particular are concerned about not being able to send money home, and many workers are concerned they won’t be able to afford food.
Producers are using emergency funds for COVID-19 economic relief.
Seventy-seven percent of respondents with available premium funds have spent or are planning to spend them to help address their community needs in response to COVID-19. Half of those reported spending these funds on food, while another 45% distributed the funds as cash to farmers and workers to spend on their individual household needs, most commonly food and medical supplies.
One anonymous respondent said that spending emergency funds on food not only helped with food security, but also, by delivering the food to employees, reduced exposure for those who were previously having to go out to buy groceries.
"Of all the groups we surveyed that spent emergency funds—from produce farms in Mexico to garment factories in India to fishing cooperatives in Indonesia—every single one agreed that the funds helped with immediate pandemic relief," said Sarah Binion, Senior Director of Impact, Research, and Learning at Fair Trade USA. “With these new findings, we will continue our work to address producers’ income needs and closely monitor their unique challenges in the communities as they evolve during the pandemic."
Fair Trade USA’s COVID-19 response is ongoing.
Fair Trade USA is also supporting producers with information about COVID-19 and resources to create safer workplaces. We learned in our April survey that producers were having a difficult time accessing accurate information about COVID-19, such as how to keep themselves and their families safe. In response, Fair Trade USA created training videos and other content for workers to equip them with real information and quell the spread of misinformation.
A 15-minute, open-source training video covering prevention basics like sanitation, hygiene, distancing, and mental health was shared via tablets to produce farms in Mexico. The video, which was offered in Spanish and several indigenous languages, was quickly shared among other farms outside of fair trade.
In addition to the videos, Fair Trade USA provided monthly newsletters and training resources to producers in several languages with information about how to respond to COVID-19, which has received a positive response.
Survey results indicate that producers are implementing these safety procedures. In the July survey, 95% of producers report implementing at least 4 or more additional safety measures since mid-April, including extra hygiene, temperature checks, PPE distribution, and increased sanitation.
Fair Trade USA has mobilized a task force of 15 employees across producer services, impact, and communications to support producers throughout the pandemic and after.
Support producers through purchase and donation.
As always, the Fair Trade Certified seal on a product signals that its purchase sends additional money to support fair trade farming and working communities—money that is now being used for emergency relief. A donation takes this impact further. As Fair Trade USA mobilizes to support producers, a donation of any size to our COVID Response Program can help.