How the UN could support SDGs with shared value

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The UN headquarters in New York, lit up with the symbols of the SDGs and the flags of the member states. [United Nations]

The Sustainable Development Goals make little sense if the purchasing and procurement power of the UN institutions does not support the SDGs as it is the case for the struggling farmers who produce the coffee, tea and cocoa consumed inside the UN, writes Fernando Morales-de la Cruz in an open letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Fernando Morales-de la Cruz is Founder of CAFÉ FOR CHANGE, an advocacy organisation.

Dear Mr. Secretary-General,

I am writing to you to request that the United Nations audits the impact of its supply chain in the Sustainable Development Goals that it supports and promotes. I also request that you encourage every government and multilateral institution to do the same.

Procurement and consumption by the United Nations, the World Bank, the IMF, the OECD, by other multilateral institutions and by every government should and must be exemplary and be aligned with its policies to eradicate poverty and defend the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the human rights of all, in all corners of the planet.

Today less than US$ 0.01 per cup of coffee, tea and chocolate consumed by United Nations personnel in New York, Geneva, Vienna, etc, helps reduce poverty in the rural areas that produce them. The shared value of so-called ‘fairtrade’ products is both insignificant and unacceptable, and perpetuates a cruel form of ‘poverty light’ in the people that produce them.

I encourage you and the United Nations to support the creation of WeShare, a transparent shared value system to help eradicate poverty and create a rural middle class in the communities that produce coffee, tea and coco with compensation of at least 10 cents per cup.

This amount represents more than 30 times the premium of what some dare to call ‘fairtrade’.  Compensation of 10 cents per cup consumed in developed nations could dramatically improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people whose livelihood depends directly or indirectly on the production of these three commodities. 10centsPerCup could bring living wages, running water, education, proper healthcare and even crop insurance and social security to all farmers and farmworkers.

Sadly, hundreds of millions of farmworkers earn daily wages that are lower than the price of a cup of coffee, tea or chocolate in New York or Geneva, while the industries they supply in developed nations accumulate tens of billions of dollars in profits every year. Their work also helps generate tens of billions in taxes in developed nations.

Were you personally to decide, as a symbolic gesture, to share compensation of 10 cents per cup of coffee, tea and coco with the communities that produce them, this could end up being a watershed moment that transforms the neo-colonial and exploitative business models of these and other industries. Exemplary leadership is required at this time. The United Nations sharing 10 cents per cup institutionally would trigger a global debate about how we must put an end to consuming products that depend on abusive labour practices and exploitative business models. You know very well that 10 cents per cup is an insignificant amount compared to the average income of UN employees and all diplomats.

I hope you agree with me that what the world needs, to end inequality and extreme poverty and reach and surpass the SDGs, is a transparent shared value system in global trade and not glitz at the UN or buzz in the media. No cup of coffee, tea and cacao or any other product should be considered ethical, sustainable or fair until all girls in the communities that produce them can attend secondary school. Gender Equality is a myth unless all young women have access to education.

Today there is hunger, malnutrition and unacceptable levels of infant mortality in the coffee, tea and cacao lands. In the Ivory Coast, the world’s leading producer of cacao, a baby girl has a higher probability of dying before reaching age one than ever graduating from secondary school.

Your mandate expires in a few months but you can still leave as legacy a United Nations that will be known by the impact of its exemplary actions and not by its many meetings and multiple goals.

I thank you in advance for your consideration to my request and look forward to your 10 cents per cup of coffee, tea and chocolate.


Fernando Morales-de la Cruz

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