Safe working conditions. Fair wages. Preservation of ecosystems. Community development. While greenhouse grower Divemex S.A. in Guadalajara, Mexico, has long championed these sustainable concepts -- and many more -- the grower has further demonstrated its commitment by Fair Trade-certifying all the peppers it produces in Culiacan.
For Luis de Saracho, Divemex's chief executive officer, the distinction of bringing the first and only Fair Trade-certified peppers to the North American market is exciting, but it runs a distant second to the potential positive change the program can bring about for hundreds of people involved in producing them.
"The 'Fair Trade Certified' label found on Divemex colored sweet bell and mini peppers provides assurance that they were grown in a socially responsible manner," he said in a March 1 press release.
Divemex started the certification process and program development four years ago. At the end of January, the efforts were rewarded when Divemex received the Fair Trade certification for 70 hectares of greenhouses.
"The journey has been long and quite intense, but we believe it was very worthwhile because it sets the stage for meaningful change for many workers, whose everyday motivation is to take good care of their families," he added in the release. "We have always felt that everyone who works hard to grow and pack the best peppers deserves a good quality of life, and we have done what we could to provide education, health care, child care and opportunities. We will continue to do so, but Fair Trade certification takes things a step further, enabling many to use new resources to address the urgent needs in their communities."
For each 11-pound box of Fair Trade-certified Divemex peppers sold in the United States and Canada between now and the end of May, 50 cents will be delivered directly into a bank account owned and managed by the Divemex workers, according to Mr. de Saracho.
"As a group, they determine how to spend the funds," he said. "They will dedicate the money to their chosen purpose, based on the most critical needs, like scholarships, bus transportation for students at risk of leaving school, and improved health care facilities."
The peppers will be marketed in North America by the Vancouver, BC-based Oppenheimer Group, which soon will begin shipping conventional red, yellow and orange sweet bell peppers -- and their red and yellow organic counterparts -- as well as colored mini peppers bearing the "Fair Trade Certified" label.
"We are genuinely proud to be involved with this project," John Anderson, Oppenheimer's chairman, president and CEO, said in the release. "Divemex's leadership in worker welfare initiatives is unparalleled. And it's easy to see that the workers at Divemex put a lot of effort into growing very high-quality peppers. Their pride certainly shows. With Fair Trade certification, they can be rewarded in an empowering way."
Mr. Anderson also noted that the Fair Trade certification program resonates well with North American consumers. "As we've seen from the locally grown movement, people are more interested than ever in knowing where their food is produced, and by whom," he said in the release. "The 'Fair Trade' label operates in the same fashion. Conscientious consumers recognize it as a symbol that the strict social, economic and environmental standards have been met. We're pleased that Divemex has made this option available for us to offer our customers."
Paul Rice, president and CEO of Fair Trade USA, the non-profit third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States, said in the release, "By achieving Fair Trade certification, Divemex has made an admirable commitment to do even more for its workers and the environment by meeting the strict international Fair Trade standards. Divemex is the first farm of its size to achieve Fair Trade certification in Mexico, and we are proud to be working with a pioneer in social responsibility. We applaud Oppenheimer for bringing Divemex's Fair Trade-certified peppers to market. This type of innovation in the produce industry gives North American consumers another easy way to make a difference for farmworkers and their families while enjoying top quality, healthy food."
According to Fair Trade USA, likely purchasers of Fair Trade-certified products are mid- to high income, well-educated individuals in families with children between the ages of 6 and 17 in the home. They have high expectations of social responsibility in the products they choose.
Divemex Fair Trade-certified peppers are available now, in bulk and various bagged options, from The Oppenheimer Group.