By Akanimo Sampson
Amid the raging COVID-19 pandemic, whenever essential workers are being discussed in social circles, medical doctors and nurses are frequently mentioned. Yet, there are key other workers who go largely unnoticed.
Fairtrade International, a group that is concerned with changing the way trade works through better prices, decent working conditions and a fairer deal for farmers and workers in developing countries is busy spotlighting the other unnoticed frontline heroes of the pandemic!
Though the services of the medical and health workers are unarguably critical, Fairtrade is however of the view those of its heroes are equally critical. According to it, ‘’from garment sewers to tea pickers, from banana plantation labourers to cotton mill workers - all over the world, millions of workers have been hit hard by the impacts of COVID-19.’’
Painfully, two million Bangladeshi textile workers face being laid off. In East Africa, tens of thousands of flower pickers are idle. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), nearly half the world's workers are at immediate risk of losing their jobs.
For those workers lucky enough to keep their jobs, the risks are huge.
Labour-intensive farming such as tea, coffee and cocoa require large numbers of people working in close proximity. Healthcare systems in many developing countries are already stretched by the “big three”: HIV-AIDS, TB and malaria.
‘’Despite the risks, many farmers and workers continue their work, which is critical to ensuring our food supply’’, says Fairtrade.
Recently, the group’s CEO, Dario Soto Abril, wrote to the G20, pressing that urgent action is needed both to protect jobs and protect workers. “We are deeply concerned about the effects that the virus will have on farmers and workers across the developing world, including those producing food and other goods that G20 countries rely on.
‘’There is an urgent need to provide humanitarian measures to protect people’s health and lives while at the same time support economic measures to ensure continued livelihoods.”
Without a doubt, Fairtrade producer organisations are demonstrating care, responsibility and leadership to mitigate the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group is sharing three of the many examples of how organisations across the world are ramping up their efforts to protect the health and safety of their members.
At Tea Promoters India, work has resumed with limitations. Following government requirements that allow only 50 per cent of workers to return to tea estates, they have strived to ensure even distribution of work and pay.
After much deliberation and assessment of potential risks, Tea Promoters India decided to rotate shifts between two groups, each shift consisting of 50 per cent of their workers. In addition, on-site measures have been put in place according to COVID-19 protocols, from distancing to recurrent sanitisation.
Despite the state of emergency, the Cooperativa Agraria Cacaotera (ACOPAGRO) has continued its cocoa collection activities in San Martin, Peru, taking measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Commercial Manager of ACOPAGRO, Pamela Esquivel, explains “all necessary measures are being taken. In these four weeks, we have worked so that collection activities continue in all the 50 collection centers, to keep buying cocoa from our producers.”
The cooperative designed a the protocol of preventive measures for the collection centres, which included drawing circles on the floor so that producers can wait their turn while respecting the required social distance. Mandatory masks and hand sanitizer have also been made available so that they can clean their hands frequently.