Tag Archives: Poverty

4 benefits of hiring aid workers with disabilities

This is the second piece in a three-part series on development workers with disabilities. See part one, and check back next week for the final installment!

By Rebecca Berman

In the previous post, I discussed some of the reasons there are so few people with disabilities working in international development. Now, I want to talk about why this needs to change.

I would like to make a public call to development professionals – individuals, NGOs, government agencies – to not just include people with disabilities in programming, but to make hiring them a greater priority. It’s time to move past the “We need to include people with disabilities” rhetoric often heard at international conferences, and start asking, “How can people with disabilities be active participants as employers, diplomats and field workers in international programs?”

This way, people with disabilities aren’t just recipients of aid, but are active participants in the process of creating change.

These are some of the benefits of hiring aid workers with disabilities:

1. Visibility is everything.

In a development context, there are often discussions on hiring both international and local staff. This is due in part to the idea of cross-cultural exchange that both parties can contribute to. The same can be said for what happens when people with disabilities are involved in projects at a leadership level. As many people may not know about disability issues, the visibility of leadership can create learning opportunities and change existing stigmas towards disabilities.

In Tanzania, I am currently taking Kiswahili classes. Someone asked my teacher, “How can she learn?” in relation to my deafness. My colleague here (also with a disability) has been working on creating accessible infrastructure – a task in which the accuracy of accessibility may not have occurred without the expertise of a local person with a disability. Thus, visibility reduces the lack of knowledge that is often a barrier to disability employment and related programming.

2. Accessibility for one person means accessibility for all (or getting closer to “all”).

When an environment is made accessible (if it isn’t already), it enhances the environment for everyone, not just the person with a disability. A recent article detailed how image descriptions on websites benefit not just people who are blind or with low vision. They’re also useful to people with slow Internet connections, and they’re beneficial by calling attention to important aspects of the picture. The same can be said about “Easy to Read” versions of booklets, which also benefit people who aren’t fluent in the language or who want a condensed version of a longer text. Thus, accessibility has hidden benefits that people aren’t aware of until they’re exposed to the accessible materials (or the need for such).

3. Overcoming the socioeconomic effects of disability unemployment

The mindset of exclusion of people with disabilities from the workforce has damaging results that lead to economic losses. A 2014 project by the British Council reported that Pakistan is losing up to 6% of its annual GDP by excluding people with disabilities in multiple sectors. Since many areas interweave with employment (such as education, training and health), increased focus on inclusion in all sectors is not just good for “moral purposes,” but also serves a practical purpose in boosting the economic well being of an entire country.

A country’s labour market also faces losses due to exclusion. This has been seen in the labour markets of Bangladesh and Morocco, with $891 million and $1.1 billion lost per year, respectively.

4. Disability will soon be “the new gender” (if it’s not already).

With the Sustainable Development Goals and 159 countries ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), disability will also become more prominent in future development programming. The past decade has seen an increase in gender mainstreaming; I think the next decade will see more disability mainstreaming, along with a focus on other minority communities.

Like gender, disability is a cross-cutting issue. Disability is related to poverty, democracy, climate change, WASH, refugees, gender, and so on. For instance, women with disabilities are three times more likely than those without disabilities to experience sexual violence. Thus, there is a need to integrate women with disabilities in gender programming. The same can be said with poverty initiatives. Since people with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty due to unemployment (and other factors), they should also be targeted in poverty-reduction programs. As they say, if you don’t have a disability in your lifetime, you will know someone who does.

Even if it isn’t your primary focus, issues concerning people with disabilities will inevitably appear in your field. Besides, aren’t we supposed to ensure that the greatest number of beneficiaries are reached by our programs?

Rebecca Berman is a Mosaic International Fellow in Tanzania, where she is coordinating an inclusive education program and supporting other initiatives for children and young adults with development and intellectual disabilities. She has previously worked with Handicap International and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, and has provided self-advocacy training in the U.S., Kenya, Guatemala, India and Ghana. You can follow Rebecca on Twitter.

Featured image shows volunteer Kate Nelson, herself deaf, working with colleagues in Fiji. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Fair trade: All it’s cracked up to be?

Did you know October was Fair Trade Month in the U.S.? You might have easily missed it if you’re not working within a fair trade-related field. In any case, how much social impact fair trade creates has been in question since the movement took root. So, let’s try to figure out if you should feel bad for missing the Fair Trade Month hype.

As I mentioned in my previous post, fair trade is “an organised social movement whose stated goal is to help producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions and to promote sustainability.” Imagine my surprise when a quick Google search revealed that some fair trade farmers receive a lower wage than their counterparts working for private farms! We’re not even talking about bridging the poverty gap (I gotta use the development lingo here, don’t I?) or sending one’s kids to school. One farmer whose story I found (appropriately named Prosper) works for the fair trade-certified Kuapa-Kokoo cooperative in Ghana, and every month he earns $10 less than his peers. So, I asked myself, what is the point?

The “point” can be found in the fair trade premiums paid by fair trade-certified companies to be spent on local projects voted on and chosen by a local community. These projects can take the form of re-investment into businesses or socio-economic undertakings, such as building wells or schools. Don’t we all just LOVE local initiatives, especially those “democratically decided” by the community in question? It must be a development fairy tale!

Unfortunately, it is not. First, the fair trade model itself is partly to blame: Fairtrade International charges a fee for its certification, which strains the already tight budgets of the farms, leaving less cash flow to spend on wages (and lowering their competitive advantage). Point goes to private farms. Second, the prices Fair Trade International offers to farmers are only marginally higher than minimum (not even median!) market wages. Essentially, what the FairTrade Labelling Organization (FLO) does is set up price floors (minimums) to protect farmers from negative price fluctuations. Generally, FLO pays 44 cents/kilogram above market minimum prices and 11 cents/kilogram in premiums. These statistics are for coffee prices only. From them, it is fairly easy to extrapolate the magnitude (or lack thereof) of the fair trade price difference. The point is that guaranteed fair trade prices are, more often than not, lower than market prices, and when they are actually higher, it is NOT enough to create impact. (You can find the full updated list of Fairtrade product prices here.)

What about the premiums and community projects? The Fair Trade, Employment and Poverty Reduction Project at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has a rather unequivocal answer: they don’t make a difference. The four-year research project funded by the U.K.’s Department for International Development had a primary goal of finding out whether the presence of fair trade employment opportunities had any effect on the wellbeing of people living in poverty in rural areas. The resulting comparative and longitudinal assessment of the benefits and disadvantages created by fair trade and non-fair trade schemes concluded: “This research was unable to find any evidence that Fairtrade has made a positive difference to the wages and working conditions of those employed in the production of the commodities produced for Fairtrade certified export in the areas where the research has been conducted.”

In other words, wage-employees working with fair trade-certified organisations are not paid any more than workers working with non-fairtrade certified companies, and their working conditions are no better (and sometimes worse and sometimes involve child labour!).

Yet another troubling finding stated that, in some cases, the structure of fair trade cooperatives was aggravating rural inequality.

These latest (April 2014) findings seem to confirm something that has long been known but has only been whispered about in academic circles. Perhaps this is why Fairtrade International so publicly displayed its disappointment with the research in its statement. While Fairtrade International has a right to challenge the research findings, the company’s status quo should have been challenged long ago. Fair trade is a great idea, and at least some consumers are buying it (no pun intended!). But, it seems ludicrous to me to continue buying fair trade products now that I know the farmers working with fair trade companies are no better off than those working with regular companies! Essentially, what this means is that fair trade’s social impact is zero. That’s disheartening, and calls not only for more research, but for systemic changes within the Fair Trade Movement.

Featured image is coffee farmers in El Salvador. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.