Cone pickers risking their lives NOW for a Christmas luxury

Posted by on September 18, 2012 in CSR, Europe, Green

Right now hundreds of men, and women, are risking life and limb to remove a small inconvenience from our Christmas celebrations.

This month the local population of Ambrolauri in Georgia are climbing 30 metre high fir trees to collect cones for the European Christmas tree industry. These cones contain the seeds needed to farm Nordmann Fir Christmas trees, also referred to as “non-drop” trees. Nordmann Fir Christmas trees are the most popular tree in Europe, 50 million are sold every year – they are a stunning natural tree that keeps its needles well, thus keeping our carpets and wood flooring clean and needle free.

But in order to reduce our vacuum cleaning chores at Christmas, these cone pickers are being killed and injured every year. And no-one is really aware of this serious ethical issue.

Victims of the Christmas tree industry

Cone picker risking his life

Every September the seeds are harvested by the local people in the Ambrolauri region of Georgia, a remote and poor area of a poor developing country. These people, or “cone pickers”, are mainly subsistence farmers living high up in the mountains who have little or no income all year until the seed harvest comes round. They then climb 30 metre high trees to pick the seed cones – without safety equipment, ropes or health insurance – and are paid a pittance. Every year someone is injured and there have been deaths too. The seeds are then sold off to farms in Europe where the trees are grown for huge profits, often using illegal immigrant labour and with little regard for the environment.

Victims over the years include Giorgi Enukidze who died in 2001 leaving a wife and 3 children, Levan Kobakhidze who was only 16 when he fell to his death and his father subsequently committed suicide, and Gaga Namgaladze who left a wife and 2 children behind.

Fair Trees®

There is just one organisation trying to change all of this. Fair Trees® was set up by Marianne and Lars Bols, Nordmann Fir Christmas tree farmers in Denmark. This organisation, accredited by the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO), has 10 annual licenses to harvest seeds in Ambrolauri. Fair Trees® provides cone pickers with safety equipment and training, health insurance, pays them a fair wage and, through a charity called The Bols Xmas Tree Fund, funds community projects such as a school renovation and dental care for the local children.

Fair Trees® is more than just a Fair Trade approved business. Through membership of Transparency International Denmark they also support the battle against corruption. They also grow high quality Nordmann Fir trees with care for the environment and the farm workers.

For more information please go to , or

What can you do?

Now is the time to write to or email the Christmas tree growers and retailers demanding change. They need to take responsibility for workers lives at the start of the supply chain and ensure that their suppliers behave ethically. Any of them can join the Fair Trees® programme.

This Christmas DO NOT buy a Nordmann Fir Christmas tree (unless it is a Fair Tree® – see below). Buy any other real tree and get the vacuum cleaner out now and again at Christmas!

Join the campaign on Facebook at

Where can you buy a Fair Tree® this Christmas?

Fairwind will be selling Fair Trees® online this Christmas at With prices starting at £40 including delivery this is a convenient and ethical way to get your tree this year. Fair Trees® can only be purchased in the UK from Fairwind and their logistics partner Bill White Nurseries, near Kidderminster.

Teresa Owen

Fairwind sells wonderful ranges of fair trade gifts and handicrafts that have been handmade with great care and attention to detail. Fairwind has been trading since 2000 selling a fantastic selection of high quality handmade presents from all over the developing world. The company is driven by a passion for fair trading terms for all partners in the supply chain, as well as concern for the environment and a belief that everyone can make a difference. At Fairwind they believe in trade, not aid, and that ethical shopping can help to create the changes needed to make lives better for millions of skilled artisans around the world. Fairwind only stocks the finest, high quality fair trade products that are desirable and well priced for the UK consumer and profitable for everyone in the supply chain. Their ethical products have all been sourced using fair trade ethics, so you can shop with Fairwind safe in the knowledge that you are being a truly ethical consumer. Fairwind has also been leading the UK campaign to make Nordmann Fir Christmas trees fair trade. Working with the pioneer in this field, Fair Trees® in Denmark, Fairwind has brought the ethical issues around the UK’s most popular Christmas tree to the public’s attention and is working with growers and retailers to change the way the Christmas tree industry operates.

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