Greenwash, Fair Trade or Exploitation?

In my last post, I mentioned my dismay at the NGO who offers nothing to the people doing the work on the ground, that they raise funds for and write reports about, brilliantly. That, to me, is the ultimate Greenwash.

But in Brazil, the contrast between fair trade and exploitation can be as vivid as the culture. As a Brazilian-American, I see with both eyes: the challenge is enforcement of well intentioned legislation on behalf of social justice and the environment. Perhaps the very Brazilian quality of “jeitinho” that knows how to skirt around obstacles, can use that energy now, to become deft leaders in the movement toward true social and environmental justice.

My awareness has developed over the last months of working closely with a rural association of rainforest tree growers, who are adhering to the Ministry of Agriculture’s regulations for sustainable seed harvest and tracking, while using organic nursery practices. They have an unsold crop of nearly 250,000 trees this year, despite a documented cry for billions of rainforest trees by both the government and NGOs engaged in reforestation along diminishing waterways. Yet so far their biggest buyer appeared from the US – me – bringing funds raised from school children and private donors who want to contribute to reforestation in a way we can monitor.

I’ve learned that the existing nurseries who supply reforestation programs are subsidized by large corporations (what soda makes you happy?) who contribute to water loss, and chemical companies whose products are mandated for use by one of the NGOs they support. Labor in one huge nursery operation I learned of, is free, coming from prisoners, while the plants they grow are being sold by a distribution nursery at a huge profit, to corporations who want to appear more green. It appears that their seed sources are neither tracked, nor come from within the legal area for collection and distribution of native plants of the bio region. The growers make nothing. The seller makes a killing. The rainforest is being replanted with trees from a different bio region.

Is that fair trade? Not if you use the definition supplied by Princeton:

“trade that satisfies certain criteria on the supply chain of the goods involved, usually including fair payment for producers; often with other social and environmental considerations trade that is conducted legally”

Recently Ben and Jerry’s made a commitment to switch to only Fair Trade ingredients by 2013. While they are engaged with products that are familiar to all – chocolate, nuts, flavorings – we are engaged with products that have international, measurable, life-affirming, long-term value. We’re in the business of global cooling. Our ultimate product is clouds, produced by rainforest trees. The people who grow these trees deserve to be paid fairly, without being muscled into the use of chemicals or greenwashing, to make a living wage for their entrepreneurial efforts.

The trees grown by these unsubsidized, organic nurseries, could ultimately sink 250,000 tons of carbon, and reforest 296 acres this year. (Note: If we were to plant 4 billion acres of trees, we would increase global cloud cover by 2% and reverse global warming.) They have complied with all government regulations, even though there is no enforcement of penalties for those who don’t, and who profit by selling their crops outside of the mandated bio-region.

Wouldn’t it be interesting, if the support these nurseries need to sell their crops at a price that actually covers their expenses, allows them to benefit communities in their region with employment, education, and reforestation skills, came from the global grassroots who applaud their courage?

If you agree, please visit www.rainforestecobank.com to add your support today.

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