Banana workers in PPE

Over the last couple of months, we have seen the huge impact that COVID-19 has had on our food supplies, jobs and most importantly public health in the UK. These impacts are of course not limited to the UK or Europe and there are vulnerable workers across the globe who are having their health and livelihoods threatened by COVID-19, including those who produce the food we rely on for staples including bananas, tea, coffee and cocoa.

Already vulnerable farmers and workers in developing countries are at high risk from the health impacts associated with the spread the virus. Many communities are already living with inadequate health care, a lack of safe water and sanitation, and are at risk of hunger and malnutrition.

We’re already seeing widespread job losses and unemployment as a result of the pandemic, which is only likely to deepen as the crisis continues. We know that farmers and workers are already among the world’s poorest people, living in communities with weak or on-existent safety nets.

For example, the flower industry has been largely decimated by the virus. In Kenya, 50,000 workers have been sent home with no pay. We also know that urgent support is needed for medical care and supplies for flower workers including masks and hand sanitiser.

With 10-15 percent of the UK’s overseas food imports coming from developing countries (according to Fairtrade analysis of DEFRA statistics), it is vital that we support farmers and workers throughout this crisis. Doing so will be not only be critical to the lives of thousands, but will also support UK food security and resilience – and support global economic recovery in the long term.

At Fairtrade, we are supporting farmers and workers in developing countries on the ground through the Fairtrade Premium, which is acting as additional income. As a result, one Fairtrade flower farm in Kenya is using the new flexibility in the Fairtrade Premium to manufacture masks for their workers and their families, as well as the local community. Workers who would otherwise have been sent home on unpaid leave have been able to retain employment and develop tailoring skills.

Fairtrade CEOs recently called on G20 world leaders to take urgent action in the face of the rising poverty set to take its toll on vulnerable communities. The pandemic looks to set back development efforts by 30 years and other warnings suggest 1.6 billion people are predicted to face hunger.

The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the fragility of global supply chains and the importance of ensuring sustainable livelihoods for the farmers and workers within them. Investing in resilient supply chains now and throughout recovery will support food security in the long term, and enable us to meet future global shocks including new pandemics and climate breakdown.