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Aussies love buying Fairtrade, but does your money really go where it's needed?

A young African boy and girl wearing blue school shirts.
Children at Fairhills daycare centres receive three meals a day as well as transport to school.

ABC Wide Bay: Kallee Buchanan

In the past five years, the retail sales value of Fairtrade products in Australia has grown 70 per cent to more than $260 million, but does the label really make a difference?

Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand chief executive Molly Harriss Olson said the rising popularity of the goods reflected a change in consumer behaviour.

"In Asia-Pacific, 63 per cent of respondents check the labelling first before buying to ensure the brand is committed to positive social and environmental impact," she said.

Since the movement began in the late 1980s, the label has grown to support more than 1.6 million people in 74 countries.

In Australia and New Zealand, there are almost 3,000 Fairtrade-certified products on the market, including everything from tea, coffee, wine, chocolate and cotton through to Fairtrade gold, skin care products, sports balls and even gin.

Three women and a young boy sitting on a step.
Many of the teachers at Fairhills School were former farm workers or students that benefitted from the project.

ABC Wide Bay: Kallee Buchanan

But does it help?

Nestled in the Breede River Valley about an hour's drive from Cape Town on South Africa's Western Cape, Du Toitskloof Wines first began its social program in 2005.

It is now the largest social responsibility project in the world, but coordinator Tienie Smith said it had not always been an easy road.

"After two years when we started building the daycare centres, they saw the difference and now they took ownership of this and they are running it."

What started as a cooperative winery in 1962 with 12 families now includes 22 member farms and more than 1,600 workers.

The Fairhills branded wine receives a fair minimum price, with 25 per cent of that going to the workers and 75 per cent to the wine producers.

On top of that, a one rand per bottle Fairtrade premium goes directly to the workers to use as they see fit.

A young African boy pushes a girl on a swing.
The students at Fairhills are given opportunities to play, learn to swim, and go on to further study.

ABC Wide Bay: Kallee Buchanan

Du Toitskloof's brand manager Bernard Kotze admits that when the project first started, not all of that money was put to good use.

In its first year the project earned 235,000 rand ($25,000), but by 2017 that had grown to 4.2 million rand ($425,000) a year.

It now funds a primary school, three daycare centres, a medical centre, library and computer lab, as well as programs to encourage students into higher education and sport.

Opportunities to learn, play and work

Not far from the Du Toitskloof Wines cellar door, primary school students are playing soccer in a small playground.

Mr Smith said Fairhills had 38 workers, 26 of whom were teachers that were formerly farm workers, who undertook training to care for the 170 children aged from three months through to university age.

One of those students is Marcia, who is now studying a degree in information services and works at the project library.

She said she had seen what the project had delivered for her community.

"It has changed a lot, because when I was in school I had to go to town to go to the library or to get information … we had to walk to town and that's a very long way," she said.

"But now everything is here and when they come I help them. If they can't work on the computers I'll show them how."

An African woman with red and black hair sitting at a library desk.
Librarian Marcia was herself a student at Fairhills, and says the children have developed a keen love of reading.

ABC Wide Bay: Kallee Buchanan

What can you do?

A short walk from the library, children at the Fairhills Creche are being closely watched by worker Fiela Feniarden.

She said the children and their families now had opportunities to succeed that simply were not there when the program started.

"A lot has changed here, for us, for the farm workers, for the children," she said.

Ms Harriss Olson said Australia now accounted for about 3 per cent of the €7.3 billion ($10.9b) of global Fairtrade sales.

"Our challenge continues to be working with food brands and retailers to increase the awareness of Fairtrade, and also grow the understanding of the many ways Fairtrade works with farmers in developing countries," she said.

A group of African children in blue shirts bend over to look at an iPad outside.
Fairhills students now have opportunities to succeed that were not available before the Fairtrade project.

ABC Wide Bay: Kallee Buchanan

She said Australian sales particularly had a significant impact in the Pacific region where coffee, coconuts and vanilla were sourced.

"Farmers in 2015 across Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands received $820,000 of funds through the Fairtrade Premium to invest in community and business development initiatives," she said.

And for Mr Smith, there was no question about the program's value.

"It definitely makes a difference, especially in the young people, it definitely makes a difference," he said.