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3 Ways to Be Sure Food Suppliers Are Paid Fair Wages

According to Wisconsin Farmers Union, farmers only receive 16¢ of the food dollar today compared to 50¢ in 1952. This problem, spurred on in many cases by consolidation in our food system, is poised to get even worse as suppliers face rising costs due to inflation and lingering supply chain issues caused by world events. Now more than ever it’s important that we use our dollars as shoppers to provide fair wages for local suppliers. Here are three simple ways you can make a difference starting now:

1. BUY DIRECTLY FROM LOCAL SUPPLIERS. The more you cut out the middlemen in the food system, the more of your dollar goes directly to the supplier. That’s why the number one way to ensure farmers and producers are paid fair wages is by purchasing products directly from them so they are able to reduce expenses and set higher profit margins. You can do so by stopping into area farmer’s markets, signing up for CSA share programs, or shopping at their farms or online stores.

2. BUY LOCAL BRANDS AT GROCERY STORES. The second best way to ensure suppliers are paid fair wages is by buying local brands that are stocked at stores, more specifically food co-ops such as ours. Because we are committed to supporting our community rather than extracting its wealth and sending it elsewhere, we source local first as often as possible, and we employ pricing strategies that help us keep local products affordable so our shoppers can continue choosing them over regional and national brands. We also try to make it as easy as possible to identify the products that are locally grown or produced by labeling them as such at-shelf and online.

3. BUY FAIR TRADE. Because of the Midwest’s climate, there are some products that can’t be grown or produced locally, such as chocolate, coffee, avocados, and bananas. In these instances, the best way to ensure vendors are paid fair wages is by choosing certified fair trade brands. Fair Trade is a third-party organization that independently certifies that international farmers have access to safe working conditions, are paid fair wages, and are not asked to give up their cultural practices. Corporations that operate in other countries and are not fair trade certified often buy out farms and completely change their practices. They have also been known to use their money to influence government policies so they benefit while workers are negatively impacted.

Fair trade certified businesses, on the other hand, work directly with their suppliers, which allows them to set their own wages. When producing value-added products, they opt for local raw ingredients as much as possible instead of shipping them in, and in most cases, pay above market price for them. They also offer payment to the suppliers up front, allow them to retain their land, and empower them to use traditional farming methods even if they’re not as fast or cheap as others.

It’s easy to feel powerless when faced with the issue of declining wages for farmers. There’s always more we can do, but helping out starts with making this simple change to your shopping habits: choose local and fair trade groceries. When we all do it together, we affect real change.

This article was originally published in the July/August 2022 issue of our bi-monthly newsletter, The Morsel. If you’d like to read more stories like this one and stay up to date on the latest co-op news and events, pick up a print copy in-store on your next grocery run or find more news on our website here.

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