The following article was written on May 5th, by Jerónimo Pruijn, Executive Director of the Foundation of Small Producers (FUNDEPPO)
There is no better day than today, May 5th, to share some words about the Small Producers’ Symbol (SPP, for its Spanish Acronym). I was born in Holland, and on May 5th in Holland, we celebrate Liberation Day, the day the occupation ended during World War II.
The SPP is also a symbol of liberation: the liberation of small producers of the global South.
The SPP was given birth the 26th of March 2006. Of course, a period of pregnancy came first. To fully understand the origin of the SPP, it is important to go back to the beginnings of fair trade. The first fair trade label, Max Havelaar was a result of a search by the Mexican small producers’ coffee cooperative, UCIRI, for better access to preferential, solidarity markets, in close collaboration with the Solidaridad Foundation in Holland. Fair trade soon turned out to be an important tool and ‘motor’ for small producers’ organizations that were in the process of consolidating their organizational and entrepreneurial efforts in different countries of the South. We should not forget that some of these producers’ organizations have their origin in the eighties, others even in the seventies or the sixties of the last century.
As a result of the rapid progress and positive impact of fair trade, in the 1990s, producers’ organizations of Latin America involved in fair trade, but also from Africa and from Asia, started organizing or strengthening existing international networks of producers’ organizations involved in fair trade. In the beginning, these networks were mainly coffee producers, but soon also came small honey, fruit and other producer’ organizations. In the case of Latin America, these international networks were mainly promoted and maintained by the coops themselves, without any external support. This process ended up in the constitution of CLAC, the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Small Fair Trade Producers, in 2004.
By then, discussions around the content and parameters of the concept of fair trade were starting to become more and more common. At the start of fair trade, at the end of the eighties, both producers as well as consumers, viewed the idea of fair trade as equivalent to that of supporting small producers’ organizations. By the time the CLAC was created, this equivalence (that fair trade was synonomous with producer support) was no longer that clear. In some new products, such as bananas, the fair trade concept was extended to private plantations, meant to benefit their workers. On the other hand, fair trade´s success also had attracted the attention of multinational companies which before had not shown any interest in this model. The broadening of the concept went along with the growth of the market for small producers. Producers were happy with this growth of opportunities, but also worried about the role small producers’ organizations played in the concept and decision-making of fair trade.
The SPP was launched as an effort to identify small producers’ organizations in the wider movement of fair trade. At the same time it was a next step in the appropriation process of the supply chain. Producers’ organizations have always been looking for ways to increase their influence and control in the different stages of the supply chain, aiming to maximize the benefits for the small producers and their communities. Producers’ organizations had been increasing their capacities, partly with the stimulating power of fair trade, to sell their products more professionally, looking for the improvement of quality as well as the increase of added values. More and more producer organizations started to get involved in the production of end-products for local markets. The SPP was meant to help these organizations to promote their products, both in the local markets, as well in the international markets, as being exclusively from small producers’ organizations.
In the beginning, the SPP was not launched as a certification system, just as a distinction for small producers’ organizations within the fair trade movement. As traders and also producer’s organizations started to request the active use of the label, feasibility studies were done, with positive results. The main expectations of the producers’ organizations by that time was that it should identify themselves; be an accessible system, in terms of costs and of simplicity; it should be adaptable to the circumstances of each and every producer organization; it should not be prescriptive in terms of detailed compliance criteria; it should be applicable to both local and global markets and it should be credible. Finally the development of the SPP ended up in the launch of a full-fledged standards and certification system at the beginning of 2011.
Currently, around sixty thousand families of around 60 small producers’ coops are certified, from 13 Latin American countries and Indonesia. Volumes of purchases and sales on the markets have been increasing steadily, both in the Northern markets, as well as in the local markets of producers’ countries. We expect this year to have the first couple of African producers-organizations participating.
What makes the SPP different from other fair and sustainable trade labels?
This is a very relevant question in the context of an avalanche of labels around the world. In the very first place, it is a 100% producer-owned initiative. It was launched in 2006 as the ‘open home’ of small producers, a place in which they can build their own future, a place where they have control and where they can receive friends. The producers are the ones who have developed and still fully steer the SPP.
It is a place where they can build their ideal world, a different economy and society, with the help and solidarity of friends. As it is built by their own efforts, it is being built and expanded step by step, guaranteeing the foundation is strong enough to carry the weight of the building when it grows. Producers decide on standards and carry the full responsibility of what they decide. In the SPP, nobody tells producers what´s good for them; they know what they need and what´s reasonable and they fight for it. At the SPP, producers do not have a share in decision-making, they make the decisions, and, wisely involve their trade-partners in the decision making process. The SPP as the incarnation of the empowerment of small producers, the ultimate goal and result of fair trade.
Recently the new General Assembly of the SPP, run by the Foundation of Small Producers (FUNDEPPO) was established and a new board was appointed. The board is composed of six small producers’ representatives from 6 different countries and of three representatives of committed traders, also from different countries and continents. This way the SPP brings the producers and the traders together to make trade and consumer-involvement possible, without anybody standing in between. The newly appointed Chair is Mrs. Rosa Guamán, the indigenous leader or an herbs-producing co-operative from Ecuador. She is an example of the process of liberation of indigenous people in producer countries as a result of an historic struggle and somebody who has a lot to show and teach to the world about the importance of creating a more inclusive and equal economy and society.
The SPP is about building a different and better reality ‘down-top’, not ‘top-down’. Small producers increasingly feel the menace of the tendency of many labels to become some kind of wishing list of perfect practices and behavior, politically, socially and ethically. Expectancies towards producers have become lists of strict requirements and high thresholds. Criteria are imposed from the North on the South, on an increasing amount of topics. This without considering all the costs involved in fulfilling all these criteria. Democratic small producers are put to compete with huge private production companies with strong hierarchical structures and which logically have lower production costs.
Fair trade should always recognize the multiples values and contributions of the work of democratic small producers and their organizations. The SPP makes these values visible, such as building stronger local economies, more democratic societies and fighting climate change. Values which have strong direct and indirect impacts, even on the wellbeing of consumers far away. The producers of the SPP look for traders, consumers and professionals that believe in the importance and capacities of small producer’s organizations and fair trade as a model of sustainable and self-managed development and inclusionary processes.
At the SPP we want to invite people to build a better world together, as a joint responsibility, not only as the responsibility of producers.
The minimum prices and compensations for organic production are key for the SPP-producers. The SPP prices are probably the highest in the market, but this is the only way fair and sustainable trade can really offer the impact and changes it promises. The producers of the SPP want to show the world what their work and lives are worth and have decided not to bargain away their dignity ever again. They know it is not easy and that it will be a long and probably endless struggle. But that is what liberation is all about, to be able to take responsibility for your own life and future.