“Zatoun is Palestine in a bottle”
Fair Trade Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Soap
Fair Trade: A New Chance for
Palestinian Agricultural Producers
In the past several years, fair trade initiatives have captured the attention of socially minded consumers and organizers, who have recognized an opportunity to forge more honest trade relations, while emphasizing human stories and political issues behind commodity production. While economic justice activism has mostly focused on Latin America, Africa and some areas of Asia, fair trade has been a relatively new topic of discussion when it comes to Israel and Palestine.
Several fair trade initiatives emerged recently as a way to promote awareness about the realities of Israeli military occupation and its impact on Palestinian farmers. Some of the groups working on this effort are the Palestinian Fair Trade Association (PFTA), Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC), Zatoun Canada, Zaytoun UK, Oxfam International, Green Action Israel and Alter-Eco France. Individually and in cooperation, these groups have struggled to market Palestinian fair trade products, mainly olive oil, to buyers in Israel, Europe and North America.
What is Fair Trade?
Fair trade is a movement that promotes economic partnerships based on equality, justice and sustainable agricultural practices. By providing an alternative to conventional markets and products, fair trade connects consumers in the West with producers from other countries, by emphasizing fair value return, environmental protection, human and workers’ rights.
The initiative started in Europe during the 1960s, under the name alternative trade. Throughout the years, alternative trade attracted socially minded consumers and activists who bought fairly traded product at bazaars, craft fairs, and other smaller markets. Over time, fair trade grew and established its own institutions, such as the Fair Trade Labeling Organization (FLO). In 1997, FLO became one of the overarching organizations in charge of fair trade certified caution process, bringing together 17 different national consumer initiatives in Europe, North America and Japan. Today, FLO sets fair trade standards for many different commodities, such as coffee, tea and sugar, encompassing different labels like Transfair USA and Max Havelaar, Netherlands.
In order for producers to get certified, they have to meet the specific standards set by FLO. After independent investigators have evaluated production facilities and made sure fair trade principles are being applied, producers can obtain fair trade certification. However, although standards have been established for a number of frequently traded goods, many others await their own product-specific guidelines, which would enable them to officially label and market their products as fair trade. Unfortunately, the process takes time and money, which is the reason why many products still cannot obtain fair trade certification; one of these products is olive oil.
Fair Trade Facts
Fair Trade in Palestine
Palestinian products have mostly been off the fair trade radar, in part because of obstacles facing Palestinian exporters, but also because certification guidelines for the bulk of potential Palestinian exports do not yet exist. Olive oil, one of the trademark Palestinian products, cannot be certified in the United States, partly because the main American certifier Transfair gives priority to goods that have a larger share of the American market.
However, Oxfam Belgium imports olive oil from producers involved with Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees and sells it in its fair trade food stores. Recently, the Palestinians have established their own national union of farming and producing cooperatives called Palestinian Fair Trade Association. The group has developed its own guidelines for fair trade certification of olive oil producing cooperatives, modeled after other similar standards for different agricultural products.
These efforts come at a time of great need for Palestinian olive farmers, who each year watch 60% of their crops go to waste, because they are unable to transport their olives to presses, or sell their oil in the markets. The intensified military closure and the building of the separation barrier have had devastating effects on farmers, most of whom form the poorest strata of Palestinian society. Fair trade initiatives like these not only provide an opportunity to secure their livelihoods, but also serve as an important chance to educate the public about the hardship they face in their everyday lives.
By sending Palestinian product out in the world, farmers can forge connections with people in the West, and contribute to breaking down of stereotypes and barriers that arise out of negative representations in the media. Through olive oil and their personal stories, Palestinians can build their image as a people struggling to survive amidst extraordinary circumstances.
Organizations Working to Promote Fair Trade Palestinian Industries
Alter-Eco is a French trading company based in Paris, created in 1999 to import and distribute fair trade products and services. The company has developed a close relationship with Taybeh, a Palestinian Christian community to the north of Jerusalem, whose olive oil is sold in Alter-eco specialty food stores. Portion of the proceeds go to the Olive Branch Fund, which supports community projects, finances education of disadvantaged children, and offers micro-credit loans to Palestinian families.
Green Action is an Israeli non-governmental organization dedicated to social and environmental justice. In 2005, Green Action started to promote fair trade principles at both global and local levels, by involving coffee producers from Columbia, as well as olive farmers in the Occupied Territories, The organization sells Palestinian fair trade olive oil from villages of Mas’ha, Yasuf and Assawiya which have been cut off from their farming lands after the building of the separation wall. Through fair trade, Green Action hopes to educate the Israeli public about the realities of life among Palestinian farmers and the repercussions of the military occupation.
Holy Land is the first company to import Palestinian olive oil to the US. Its mission is to create and sustain a permanent market for Palestinian farmers, despite all the obstacles they face in exporting their products. While Holy Land Olive Oil is not certified fair trade, Oxfam found it consistent with the general fair trade guidelines established by Fair Trade Labeling Organization.
Olive co-operative is a UK based company which promotes responsible tourism, fair trade and education in Israel-Palestine. They offer several different small group tours, which seek to inform visitors about the current situation in the Occupied Territories. In October, Olive Co-op organizes the Olive Harvest tour that aims to familiarize Westerners with the consequences of the occupation in the lives of Palestinian farmers. The co-operative also sells fair trade products, such as olive oil, za’tar spice and olive wood carvings.
Oxfam is a coalition of 12 different organizations that fight against global poverty and injustice. In 2004, Oxfam joined other like minded groups in launching a campaign called “Make Trade Fair,” which seeks to mobilize power holders to change the rules of trade and make it a tool against global poverty. Oxfam works in both Israel and the Palestinian territories, and has recently started a fair trade project in cooperation with Green Action in Israel. The campaign focuses on creating marketing opportunities for Palestinian farmers, but also encouraging Israeli consumers to consider the hardship endured by Palestinian farmers. Oxfam works to show how growing poverty in Israel is related to the cost of conflict, and in this way promote the message of peace.
Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC) is a Palestinian NGO, which works with farmers to promote agricultural development and sustainable farming practices. The organization was founded in 1983 by a group of Palestinian agronomists, whose primary goals were long-term food security, improving lives of rural women and promoting principles of volunteerism. PARC supplies organic olive oil produced by local olive cultivators to several organizations, which work at marketing the product in Europe and North America.
Palestinian Fair Trade Association (PFTA) is a national union of farming and producing cooperatives, based in Jenin, Palestine. The union works with Canaan Fair Trade to supply Palestinian fair trade oil to distributors in North America, Europe and even Israel. The association has come up with its own set of guidelines for fair trade certification of olive oil, based on principles of fair value return, reinvestment in communities, environmentally friendly practices and equal employment opportunity. Similar guidelines have also been established for the production of honey.
Zatoun is a trade name of a Canadian based organization called Palestine Peace Awareness, Inc. Zatoun imports Palestinian fair trade olive oil through organizations like PARC and PFTA, and sells it to buyers interested in using it as a tool to educate the public about the realities of the Israeli military occupation. Part of the proceeds from the sale goes to support Project Hope, an art, drama and literacy program in the occupied Palestine.
Zaytoun is a British non-governmental organization, established in 2004 to sell Palestinian olive oil on European markets. In its first year, the organization imported and sold 15.000 liters of olive oil, and hopes to expand its work to include developmental projects. Zaytoun is also planning an Olive Harvest Delegation for the fall of 2005.
More Fair Trade Resources
Articles on Fair Trade in Palestine
General Fair Trade Information