Spare a thought when choosing your Christmas tree this year because for some it means life or death.
Fair trade gift retailer Fairwind is highlighting the plight of men, women and children in Ambrolauri, a mountainous region of Georgia between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, who risk their lives to harvest pine cones wanted by the multi-billion pound Christmas tree industries for their precious seeds.
Six men have suffered fatal accidents in the last five years; the latest being that of 54 year old Ivane Kaerbashvilli who fell to his death after climbing a 30 metre high fir tree to collect pine cones. Many more accidents are unaccounted for and far too many cone pickers endure broken limbs and other severe injuries.
More than 80% of Nordmann Fir Christmas trees sold in Europe are grown from seeds from Georgiaâ€™s Ambrolauri province. The country, sandwiched between Turkey and Russia, is one of the most impoverished countries in the region.
But thousands of miles away from such perilous back-breaking work, in her office on Fairwindâ€™s owner Teresa Owen says:
â€œWe are not just encouraging ethical shopping, we are raising awareness of the risks imposed by a luxury item. Everyone takes their Christmas tree for granted, year in, year out. Some people will not even know where it has come from let alone the fact that people are being killed to farm it.
Hearing about men climbing something as tall as a three storey block of flats without protection, in order to feed their families, made us want to do something to help.â€
Fairwind, with help from property insurance claim specialists MA Assist, raised funds to renovate a school near Tlugi at the heart of the cone picking region. Fairwind has been working with Fair TreesÂ® to raise awareness in the UK of the ethical issues surrounding Nordmann fir trees and to persuade growers to convert their Nordmann Fir trees to Fair Trade trees, or Fair TreesÂ®.
Fair TreesÂ® promotes sustainable production and decent wages and working conditions for all of those who supply the seeds for buyers in the billion-pound Christmas tree industry. It also raises funds for community projects in Ambrolauri and for equipment and insurance for cone pickers.
After a year of dedicated fundraising, Fairwind and MA Assist raised Â£10,000 towards the renovation of the school. This was matched by the Georgian government and an extensive renovation of the school has now been completed.
â€œâ€˜We presented a cheque for Â£10,000 to the Fair TreesÂ® team this summer,â€ says Teresa. â€œWe have just heard they have completely refurbished the village school in time for Christmas, which is quite poignant considering the nature of their only source of income.â€
The plight of the cone pickers can be followed on Facebook at www.facebook.com/FairTrees showing stories of fundraising efforts and the teamâ€™s visit to Georgia. There is also a link to a video with Georgia-born British singer Katie Melua who is now Patron of Fair TreesÂ®.
The success of Fair TreesÂ® means seeds gathered from these plantations are recognised as Fair Trade by the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) and also have organic accreditation. Fair TreesÂ® sources its own seeds and grows Nordmann Fir trees using strict ethical and environmental policies such that the trees themselves are also accredited by the WFTO.
After his death, Ivane Kaerbashvilliâ€™s widow, Lali, was quoted in Politiken Today saying her husband was picking cones for a large company from Denmark. Danish companies are behind 70% of the seeds harvested in Georgia. None of them took responsibility for the tragedy but did say they have an ongoing dialogue with grain traders at national and international level.
Fair TreesÂ® guarantees a quality Christmas tree. Itâ€™s a product that does not cost the earth or a life which makes them an excellent choice as they are just like any ordinary Nordmann Fir Christmas tree but conscience-free. They also hold their needles very well. Merry Christmas!
For more information please go toÂ http://www.fairwindonline.com/blog