So Where do all the Fair Trade Social Premiums Go?

One of the kindergartners that will attend La Esquina de la Educación in San Antonio de Rioyos

One of the kindergartners driving La Esquina de la Educación in San Antonio de Rioyos, Guanajuato, Mexico

So Where do all the Fair Trade Social Premiums Go? A story about how Fair Trade tomatoes grow into a school in Guanajuato, Mexico by José Vílchez-Azcona

Many people criticize Fair Trade: its standards too lenient, too fixed; it brings too many honeybees to the same pot, abandoning the rest. And most recently, organizations haggle over whether or not to consolidate a legal definition for this decades-old movement. However, a more quiet confusion is starting to gain momentum. More and more, people want to know:

Where do all the Fair Trade social premiums go?

A group of recent graduates in Berkeley, CA, decided to specialize in answering exactly that question. In partnership with Earth Equity Farms, Yasamin Soltanianzadeh, Patricia O’Rourke, and José Vílchez-Azcona started the Fair Trade Development Organization (FTDO), a nonprofit organization that specializes in maximizing the impact of Fair Trade social premiums in Fair Trade communities around the world.

According to Fair Trade Resource Network, Fair Trade social premiums are a “sum of money paid on top of the agreed Fair Trade price for investment in social, environmental or economic development projects.” Producers democratically decide where to invest these funds, with projects ranging from constructing proper healthcare facilities to financing business purchases. However, in the case of a small farming community in Guanajuato, Mexico, the Fair Trade social premiums from their tomato production will go straight towards building an educational center.

“When we first started working with the farming community in Guanajuato, there was a silent hesitation: people did not openly express what their community needed most. However, something unexpected broke the ice. Mothers stepped forward with a very clear demand: they wanted education for their children,” said Patricia O’Rourke, CEO of FTDO

Since then, FTDO has engaged in months of research and dialogue with development experts and education veterans to set up the blueprint for a kindergarten and educational center called Esquina de la Educación, or The Learning Corner. According to FTDO’s research, only 5 out of 25 eligible children attend the local kindergarten, and 85% of teens drop out before completing middle school. The kindergarten will be the first step in addressing the area’s educational vacuum.

Families are very enthusiastic about the changes going on in their community. Their Fair Trade tomato production has become a stepping stone towards opening up opportunities for their town. For every Fair Trade tomato they sell, Fair Trade company Earth Equity Farms gives them a fixed amount, or a social premium, for the exclusive development of projects to benefit their quality of life. Doña Adela, a mother and grandmother in the community, described her vision for these social premiums:

“I’ve always told my kids to achieve more than I was able to achieve. With school, it doesn’t matter if you work in the town or in the fields. Education gives you the opportunity to use more than just a shovel: you can use a pencil, too.”

Kids are excited as well. When the FTDO team went to visit the town, the kids crowded inside of the kindergarten, huddling around a small set of colored pencils that Patricia brought to the table. She asked them to draw what they wanted to be when they grow up. She commented:

“The kids had so much fun drawing and imagining what they all wanted to be. They jiggled, jumped up and down, showed each other their drawings. Teachers, doctors, gardeners, bumblebee cowboys– their excitement was contagious, precious. I treasure this moment, and know that as an organization, we need to do everything we can to turn these dreams into achievements.”

By collaborating with many different local organizations in Mexico, FTDO secured donated curriculum, pro-bono architecture, and nutritional supplements to give these children– all before the development of even the first penny of social premiums.

“The idea is, we want to set up a solid foundation of personal relationships within the community so that when farmers do start gaining access to their social premium funds, there will be a clear direction for how to invest them, and an added support network of donors and partners to maximize the impact of these funds,” says Yasamin Soltanianzadeh, FTDO’s Chief Development Officer.

Currently, FTDO is crowdfunding via Indiegogo to initiate the first steps for the construction and development of Esquina de la Educacion. This is the first of many social development projects they plan to develop within this year, and hope to expand their reach to other countries in Latin America.

“By creating sustainable social development projects, we can call attention to the positive impact Fair Trade can have. We can help Fair Trade companies clearly communicate to their consumers the true impact of their purchases, and bring more focus and accountability into the Fair Trade space regarding the utilization of these social premiums.” -Patricia O’Rourke, CEO.

You can support and follow FTDO’s Esquina de la Educación campaign on Indiegogo at

Learn more at

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