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Turqle Trading: Creating Sustainable Jobs Through Fair Trade
01 November 2012

tt1.gifTurqle Trading’s mission is to create sustainable jobs in South Africa, through trade in fair and ethical food. Why? Because unemployment in South Africa is a national crisis.

Official statistics say unemployment in South Africa is 25% of the total working-age population. Those who know, estimate the real level of unemployment closer to 35% (stats gatherers do not count people who have given up looking for work) and if one adds under-employment (people who work part time), it rises to 40+%.

Of the officially unemployed, more than 70% are unemployable - their skills do not match the need of the job market. Youth unemployment (under 24 year olds) is at 51% (India =10%). Sixty  percent (60%) of young black women do not have work. This year, only 10% of the school leavers will find a job.

According to the labour federation, Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), there’s no other middle income country in the world with such a high rate of unemployment.

“This is a crisis. We call it a ticking bomb,” said Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu’s general secretary. “We think that one day there may be an explosion. Seventy-three percent of people who are unemployed in South Africa are below the age of 35 and a lot of them have been to universities.

“If we look at lots of our cities, they are all surrounded by a ring of fire. We have seen in almost every direction around Johannesburg, periodic violent protest actions led by young people and women, the two sections of the community that bear the brunt of that crisis of unemployment.” – Mail & Guardian: 21 Feb 2012

In Feb 2011, the South African National Treasury published a discussion paper on Youth Unemployment. One of the graphs illustrates the grim reality in South Africa: out of 11 emerging countries, 10 countries have a youth unemployment rate between 7 and 25%. South Africa is a complete outlier - at 50% plus.

For those with graphic minds:
People without jobs are people without personal dignity. There is nothing more de-humanizing than seeing oneself as ‘worthless’ in a commercial world.

People with no prospect of finding jobs are people with no hope, and hopeless people get desperate, and desperate people – especially desperate young people – will do almost anything.
Politicians churn through “how” this happened; “why” it happened and; “who is to blame.” But the bald truth is, we are in a social spin dryer with a roll of razor wire and an angry lion. It is only a matter of time before someone gets scratched – badly.

That is why Turqle does what it does – that is why we support job creation, sustainable trade and fair trading – that is why the Fair Trade Trust.

Why we do what we do…
Turqle Trading is an umbrella organization, exporting fairly traded food products from South Africa.

What does this mean? It means we do not make the products ourselves, it means we work with established local producers who are committed to working according to fair trading principles.
We feel we can make more of a difference – add more value – by working with factories that are already making good food for the local market.

By working with them to expand and develop their fair trading footprint and finding fair trading markets for these products, we are adding another layer of resilience to an enterprise who already does a lot of things well.

This leads to growth and increased employment. The economists call it ‘leveraging synergies’… it works.


How do we add value?
Apart from the practicalities of developing products for specific customers and managing the additional requirements that come with a fair trading export market, we also facilitate the fair trading conversation between our customers and our producers.

In many cases we ask the questions and keep a finger on the pulse, so our customers don’t have to – unless they want to – and then there is a comprehensive, well documented ‘history’ to go back on… some of our trading relationships go back 15 years.

One of Turqle’s fundamental commitments is to export as much fully beneficiated product as possible. This means shelf-ready products leave South Africa – all the packaging, processing and manufacturing revenue (and expertise!) stays in South Africa.

It is about supporting viable, fair trading food businesses to grow sustainable industries, which will create thriving communities, healthy families and resilient individuals.

About the Fair Trade Trust…

2.5% of the FOB price for every product Turqle sells, goes to the Fair Trade Trust. Fair Trade Original and El Puente match Turqle’s contribution.

The funds from the Fair Trade Trust are used for education and are divided between school fees, group education projects at the various factories (aimed at up-skilling workers) and individual study bursaries. Children of workers who are eligible for school fees may also apply for bursaries.

Practically, what does this mean?
It means many children can go to better schools because (unfortunately), the better schools are often more expensive.

It means the workers in the various factories have the opportunity to upgrade their skills, broaden their world view and very often, improve their outlook on life because they are learning something that will enable them to get promoted, earn more and should they have to look for alternate employment one day, make them more employable in the eyes of potential employers.

The one question people ask (and we ask of ourselves too!) is what is the impact of what we do?
Looking at the national statistics – sadly, apparently nothing at all.

Since 2003, the unemployment situation throughout the country has been worsening steadily.

On the ranking of some of the most corrupt countries in the world, we are on the uncomfortably high side (on a lemon yellow to Cherry red scale, we’re a scary blood orange!)  and in recent years we’ve slipped closer to Vermilion. Most scary – we are starting to see ourselves as a ‘corrupt nation’ and the youth have very little confidence in the present government.

However, in the face of the gloomy bigger picture, there are glimmers of light – people who have benefitted – people for whom the little bit of help, the little bit of intervention and the little bit of a ‘hand-up’ was enough.

Many of the children now have aspirations well beyond that of their peers. They are interested in doing more than simply finishing school and getting a job. It is about their horizons that have shifted. They now think ‘career’ rather than ‘job’.

Many of the adults who have benefitted from group training have also ‘blossomed’. For a few of them, their exposure to a personal enrichment course was all it took to kindle a flame of self-belief, self-respect and hope. As one participant remarked: ”For the first time in my life, someone told me I could do something – I now believe I am worth something.”

What difference did we make?
In truth, the ‘big’ good news stories are few and far between – in reality, pathetically few - but perhaps we are too impatient, too unrealistic. Instead of looking for ‘trees,’ maybe we should be looking for ‘grass’. The real value is going to start percolating through in a generation or two and while there will undoubtedly be the odd tree, what we are really hoping for is a lush, green pasture.


Turqle was established in 1997, it deals with 11 producers – some small, family-owned businesses, through medium-sized enterprises to large factories. It has approximately 140 products under 6 fair trading private labels. In 2010 it launched its own brand “Cape Treasures” and in 2012, it adopted the Ukuva iAfrica brand.

Turqle is an active member of WFTO (World Fair Trade Organization) : Pieter is on the Board of WFTO-Africa (COFTA) and Rain is the coordinator of WFTO-SA (the WFTO country network in South Africa), an enthusiastic supporter of FTN (Fair Trade Network) in South Africa, and certified by Fairtrade International (FLO) as a licensee, trader, importer, manufacturer and processor of FLO certified herbs and spices. 

By Rain Morgan
Turqle Trading


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