This article, originally published in April 2022, is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders—from around the world and all parts of society—address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.
The future is digital. In the three decades since the popularisation of the internet, this mantra, oft repeated from Silicon Valley boardrooms to government ministries, has acquired the charge of inevitability rather than prophecy. It has galvanised everyone from venture capitalists and politicians to tech junkies and everyday consumers with its promise of ease, efficiency and systemic streamlining. Digitalisation is the future of humanity, and the future does, indeed, seem digital.
But at Fairtrade we also know that the future is fair. In fact, we are committed to fairness and social justice because we operate with the profound belief that the future—one of flourishing livelihoods and equitable supply chains, of mainstreaming women’s empowerment and of eliminating north-south divides—is rooted in the global pursuit of equality, sustainability and fairness for all.
That’s why at Fairtrade we are ramping up our efforts to digitalise fairness by leveraging the three Ts: traceability, transparency and trade. In this way, we can ensure that as boardrooms and governments digitally speed ahead, farmers, agricultural workers and consumers are not left behind. But what do we mean by digitalising fairness? And how can we make certain that our digital future is, indeed, fair?
For one, we can start by building a firm commitment to fair and equitable access to data. Since 2019, Fairtrade has been working alongside our partners Farmforce and Think!Data on a win-win digital solution for cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire, to ensure their co-operatives can own their data and leverage it beneficially to respond to market changes and increase market access. Once the systems are implemented, co-operatives will be able to map their members’ farms and track what they buy from each, giving producers greater oversight of their own businesses and the ability to assure buyers of how and where their cocoa is grown.
In our digital future, information is power. And fair data puts farmers and co-operatives right at the centre, so they have a system that meets their own needs and acquire the capacity to control and benefit from that information. After all, that’s exactly what we mean by fair data—data that is accessible, transparent and has the power to uplift all who use it.
After all, that’s exactly what we mean by fair data—data that is accessible, transparent and has the power to uplift all who use it.
But fair data means nothing if it cannot be leveraged in the first place. Which is why Fairtrade is also spearheading fair access to market. Fairtrade believes producers should have fair access to core markets because only through trade can we generate the value for farmers that leads to flourishing livelihoods. At the same time, we also believe that consumers should have assurance guaranteed. We recognise the potential digital technologies have in linking smallholder farmers directly to consumers just as we understand the consumer’s need for traceability and transparency on how their purchasing practices impact farmers, the environment and social justice.
Transparency and traceability are more than just tools that enable sustainability. Fairtrade relies on these to enforce accountability, share value and risk across the supply chain and build increased trust with farmers, retailers and consumers. As a result, through our planned FairMarket strategy Fairtrade is working to help smallholder farmers digitalise operations, ensure traceability and transparency, and contribute to a more efficient and transparent supply chain with fewer intermediaries.
By implementing a digitalised system that can provide real-time projections on what is being produced and who has stock that remains unsold, Fairtrade can digitalise for market efficiency. In addition, we can address the existing asymmetry of power in information distribution, ensuring that farmers and their co-operatives gain critical information from their commercial partners that may impact their businesses. That is market fairness in action.
Finally, digitalising for fairness means a constant drive for product innovation. We already know the future is fair, but we also know that to achieve it we must continue to innovate, evolving technologies that create access-to-market for farmers and co-operatives while building an increasingly transparent supply chain. At Fairtrade, where our global network spans 1.9 million farmers in 1,880 producer organisations across more than 70 countries, that means harnessing digital platforms to ensure that our digital world is indeed a flat one where information is accessible and flows seamlessly.
At Fairtrade, where our global network spans 1.9 million farmers in 1,880 producer organisations across more than 70 countries, that means harnessing digital platforms to ensure that our digital world is indeed a flat one where information is accessible and flows seamlessly.
Enter Fairtrade’s virtual flower farm tours. Launched in 2021, the Fairtrade system’s virtual flower farm tours provide invaluable insights into Fairtrade-certified flower farm operations and important metrics on their sustainability achievements regarding everything from waste management and water and energy usage to gender equality initiatives.
Through an innovative and new digital platform where transparency and data meet, Fairtrade can offer retailers, traders, consumers and producers a cogent opportunity to leverage digital tools for information sharing. And as we head into 2022 and beyond, we’re aiming to scale-up our virtual farm tours and build on the digital resources that we can offer all members of the Fairtrade ecosystem so that trade, transparency and traceability become more than just the aspirations of a fairer tomorrow—they become the building blocks of our fair future.
That’s what we mean by digitalising fairness. Because as the world increasingly digitalises, we cannot afford to leave fairness behind.