Picture an online gps tracking system which shows how sustainable fair trade products are. Fair Trade Management students are taking part in its development.
This small group of students used gps information to draw up maps showing the locations of tea plantations and surrounding forests for a tea farmers' cooperative in Uganda. The students also mapped the water sources and the farmers' dwellings. Vercauteren: 'These are quite some distance away from each other.'
If the tea cooperative constructs a new well close to the farmers' homes, social living conditions will be improved and the cooperative will score higher in the sustainable development scale. The tracking system features a forty-point grading scale of sustainable development, such as energy use, concern for the nature and healthy working conditions. Not only consumers, but also certification authorities, traders and producers will be able to gain more insight in this way. During the GeoFairTrade symposium on Friday 13 May at VHL, it appeared, however, that there are still many unanswered questions about the tracking system. The main one is to whom should the baton be passed when the EU project ends. A lot of money is also needed to gather the needed data. However, student Louis de Francquen thinks it is 'reasonable' to expect the system to be introduced in five years' time.
But would the consumer want to know about all such information? 'People may consult the information now and then and come across an inspiring story. That creates trust. They would then be less inclined to step over to another product', Vercauteren feels. 'In the past, we didn't know where our food comes from. Since having problems with, for example, BSE, more questions have arisen as to the origins of foodstuffs', adds her classmate De Francquen. 'Perhaps the product should carry a story as well, which you can read, for example, on a box of cornflakes during breakfast.'
In any case, one thing the students are sure of is that transparency is easier to achieve in the fair trade sector than in the conventional sector. 'Some of the brands have already achieved this.'