Once again I find myself in the midst of the Fair Trade USA audit. Every year Runa Foundation participates in the Fair Trade USA audit alongside the certificate holder, RunaTarpuna S.A. As the Fair Trade fiduciary for the guayusa producer associations, Runa Foundation is responsible for administering the social premium fund – an additional payment of 15% of guayusa sales that is paid to farmer associations to support community development and strengthen organizational capacity – and for providing all financial information about the use of the funds. Additionally, the Foundation is accountable for providing capacity building workshops to the producer organizations in order to ensure the appropriate use of the money as well as guarantee that all of the associations and individual farmers are benefitting from the investments.
Each year, Fair Trade USA contracts a third party auditing organization called SCS Global Services. The mission of SCS is to “promote environmental stewardship and social responsibility by providing trusted third-party certification and auditing, and driving the development of science-based leadership standards in support of sustainable development.” This year the audit spans 8 days while the auditor from SCS visits RunaTarpuna and Runa Foundation offices and facilities in Quito and Rukullacta. The auditor spends the first half of each day carrying out field visits to individual farmers as well meeting with representatives from the farmer associations. The second half of the day the auditor reviews documents on behalf of RunaTarpuna, Runa Foundation, and the individual associations. Though the audit is always tedious and tiring, it is essential to measure the progress that has been made, as well as to find the areas of weakness where we all parties need to work together to improve compliance.
2017 marks my 4th year working with Runa Foundation on Fair Trade and the nearly 3,000 indigenous Kichwa farmers in the Amazon. Throughout the past 4 years I have seen immense organizational growth on behalf of the Foundation, RunaTarpuna, and the farmer associations all working together to comply with the Fair Trade USA standard. While there are many benefits and challenges to working with the Fair Trade USA certification, one of the most important elements is the social premium fund. The social premium isn’t only a source of additional funding for agricultural production and community initiatives, but the investment of the social premium entails a process of capacity building, empowerment, and improving the organizational strength of the farmer associations. Part of Runa Foundation’s mission is to strengthen the ability of producer associations to make sustainable financial decisions in order to address the needs of farmers, and to responsibly invest their Fair Trade Social Premium fund in a way that will generate visible benefits for all guayusa producers. In 2016, farmers from 13 guayusa producing associations participated in over 80 capacity building workshops ranging from learning the fundamentals of the Fair Trade Certification process, to more advanced accounting workshops on how to administer rotating community funds.
The empowerment and strengthening of the farmer associations is exemplified in the successful implementation of social premium fund investment plans. We currently have 3 associations that are successfully managing rotating community funds that provide small loans to the members of their association. Other associations have opened and equipped offices to run activities for their associations, they have opened bank accounts, and they have purchased agricultural equipment and tools to help with the maintenance and efficient production of their farms.
One of Runa Foundation’s strengths over the past year has been using the Fair Trade USA standard as a foundation for working with the associations to create adaptive work strategies that benefit all stakeholders and that promote the transparency of the Fair Trade process and the investment of the Social Premium fund.