Fair Trade Cotton in Mali
Today, cotton is the main source of income for 20 million people and accounts for up to 60% of national export earnings in West and Central Africa. Since 1999, however, African producers have suffered from successive price falls—with no guarantee for farmers that the selling price will allow them to earn a return on investment and recoup the production costs. African producers are disproportionately vulnerable, often working with old-fashioned tools on family plots but competing with highly subsidized producers from rich countries. African cotton farmers thus often see no benefits from international trade. This case discusses fair-trade cotton initiatives that help poor Malian farmers sustain their production and earn meaningful revenues. The work of the Fair-trade Labeling Organization, its French member Max Havelaar France, and European clothing retailers such as France’s Armor-Lux highlights the value of fair trade for both producers and end-consumers. Thanks to a guaranteed minimum price implemented as part of the fair-trade process, Mali’s producers increased their income by 70% during the 2005/06 harvest.