What if the price of your fair trade coffee accounted for the unpaid domestic labor of women?


That’s what some Nicaraguan fair trade co-operatives are now calculating. Upside Down World describes how this development began with a sesame oil contract with The Body Shop and has now caught on among green coffee co-ops in the country as well.

There are three types of unpaid work mainly done by women: work which is part of actual production although unpaid (like sorting coffee cherries); work which contributes indirectly to production (like washing work clothes); and domestic and other work in the home which contributes generally to the stability of the household and the community.

The innovation of this initiative lies in the fact that it includes pay not only for the first and second of these, but also for the third, seeing women’s work in the home as crucial in providing a stable environment within which cash crop production can take place.

The starting point for this development came in 2008, when the co-operative Juan Francisco Pas Silva needed to renew its Community Trade (equivalent to Fair Trade) contract for sesame oil with The Body Shop. The co-op and ETICO, an ethical trading company that works closely with the co-op) both had strong gender policies and were looking for ways of supporting women through this contract. The idea of including a component for women’s unpaid work came as a flash of inspiration. After rough calculations, a figure of 960 cordobas a year, approximately $50 per manzana (0.7 of a hectare) was agreed – as a recognition and recompense for the contribution to production made by women. 

The effect of this compensation has extended far beyond the purely economic. The extra funds generated by the price increase are funneled back to women’s empowerment efforts–such as loan schemes and educational programs–and many women say they are more confident and feel a greater sense of ownership in the co-operatives. “There is a general feeling from the women, a sentiment that is often repeated, that: ‘somos tomadas en cuenta’ (We are now appreciated, taken into account).”

It’s amazing to think what that recognition would do it it were extended throughout the entire global economy.

New Orleans, LA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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