COVID-19: An Update From Around the World
By Katie Barrow Schneider
As I write this update, I am sitting at my new desk (my cluttered kitchen table) trying my best to focus as my 4-year-old twins beg me to turn on the music for yet another Disney dance party in the living room. My husband is in our bedroom, poring over our finances while on a conference call with his office. These days, ridden with anxiety about the unknown, are stressful, but can be taken one at a time. I try to imagine how mothers in farming communities or the textile industry, already living on the edge of extreme poverty, are handling this pandemic. I empathize with the heavy weight they must carry from the fear of this quickly-spreading, deadly virus, the unsettling wave of major life changes it has brought, and the uncertainty about what lies ahead. And then I read this quote from a recent survey of fair trade producers and fully grasped the severity of this situation:
“I would rather lose my entire crop and keep the health of my family.”
In my nearly 12 years working with Fair Trade USA®, I have never seen a statement so grave or a situation so dire.
Key Findings from Producer Surveys
As of April, Fair Trade USA’s Impact, Research, and Learning team has completed nearly 200 interviews with producers around the world to better understand the overarching impact of COVID-19 and where help is needed most. Luckily, not everyone is having to make decisions as difficult as the Colombian coffee farmer quoted above, but the outlook is sobering. The following are the findings from fair trade farmers and workers around the world. Note that while these observations and results are taken from a sample of fair trade farms and factories, we are finding through ongoing conversations with our partners that they are representative of the challenges and needs faced by many.
- Two-thirds (66%) of surveyed groups reported a drop in demand since the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Two-thirds (66%) of all respondents said they needed more information about COVID-19, such as best practices for social distancing and prevention measures to stop the spread of the virus.
- Nearly all producers surveyed (95%) are implementing extra safety measures to address COVID-19 including extra hand washing, distributing additional personal protective equipment (PPE), deep cleaning tools and facilities, taking employee temperatures, and implementing social distancing in the workplace.
- Most producers (96%) live in places where national/federal/state/local governments are mandating safety measures such as social distancing, wearing masks, and even country-wide lockdowns.
COVID-19's Impact on Fair Trade Producers
As families in fair trade communities attempt to stay on top of the latest pandemic news and information on how to stay safe, the ramifications of COVID-19 continue to unfold. The world is now more than two months in, and still, farmers and workers don’t know the full effect this pandemic will have on their lives and when it will end. Our producer partners around the world face income scarcity as factories close and harvests are threatened by labor shortages and changes in market demand.
Farmers continue to grow and harvest our food to keep supermarkets stocked, doing their best to protect themselves as health concerns loom. In the apparel industries, factories are downsizing or are closed due to shelter in place orders, leaving employees abruptly with reduced wages. Many of the factories are at risk of going out of business. Some of those who continue to work are producing personal protective equipment (PPE) for their communities and healthcare workers.
In the midst of this somber situation, fair trade continues to be a way to give farmers and workers tools they need for resiliency. And while fair trade alone is not the solution to this unprecedented pandemic, we have been encouraged by stories of hope, camaraderie, and compassion from around the globe, some of which are captured below. (The included quotes were taken from the survey, so they are anonymous.) Producers urge us to spread the word that they need fair trade now more than ever, and that this system can only work if consumers continue to seek the seal and prioritize Fair Trade Certified™ goods whenever possible.
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