The tradition of bringing an evergreen tree into the home to celebrate Christmas has been around for centuries in northern Germany and spread across Europe and beyond from the early 19th century. It is now an integral part of celebrations around the world.
A high proportion of the seeds used to grown the Nordmann Fir, one of the most popular types of Christmas tree, originates from Georgia. For the workers there, the risk of injury or indeed death usually comes with the territory. Climbing up 30-meter tall trees without safety equipment is normal and the pay is barely enough to survive on for one person, let alone a whole family. This is in stark contrast to the joy and festivity at the end destination of the tree that is eventually grown from the seed.
Based in Denmark, Fair Trees was formed by Bols Forstplanteskole plant nursery in 2007 after they became aware of the atrocious conditions of cone pickers in the Tlugi region of Georgia. In 2010 they achieved Fair Trade status and in 2011 their seeds were certified organic.
Marianne Bols, Founder of Fair Trees told Sublime: ‘I am happy to see how our efforts have made serious changes possible for the community and am personally very touched by the warmness I have received from the cone pickers and their families.’
Fair Trees was formed to make the entire life cycle of a tree more sustainable. This includes providing safety equipment for workers, improving general labour conditions and making sure insurances are in place for accidents and general medical care. Community work to enhance the general standard of living in the region for pickers and their families with education and social initiatives is also a big part of the project, all implemented through the Fair Trees Fund.
Georgian singer, Katie Melua, supports Fair Trees. Marianne Bols said: ‘Katie is a true pattern breaker and as a woman a fantastic role model.’ Katie Melua herself commented: ‘Fair Trees is a wonderful project that helps improve the lives of many people in remote areas of Georgia. I am absolutely thrilled that fair trade has reached the poor cone pickers.’
Another crucial part of the equation is to balance out the playing field between small farmers and international seed distributors and help reduce corruption. By being a member of Transparency International Denmark, who describes Georgia as one of the most successful in reducing corruption, Fair Trees goes one step further than being just Fair Trade.
So far Fair Trees have secured 20% of the harvesting licenses in the region and sell the seeds on to growers at the same price as non-Fair Trade seeds.
By highlighting this hidden issue, Fair Trees have transformed the lives of the workers employed in an entire industry. How could Christmas not be even better knowing that your tree came from a socially conscious source?