Fair Trade Reflections

As I travelled to Bristol for the International Fair Trade Towns Conference, I knew I was in for a treat.  The programme (and the banana loaf on offer) looked like something I’d like to get my teeth into.  I was particularly looking forward to hearing from Greg Valerio, founder of CRED Jewellery, and leading campaigner for Fairtrade in the Gold industry. I am always keen to hear from entrepreneurs who are actively seeking for alternatives to a disastrously unfair industry, mainly because in doing so they are providing us with opportunities to buy exciting products with a clean conscience.

The conference did not disappoint; Jenny Foster who hosted on behalf of Fairtrade Bristol Network welcomed us all and ensured that we were all clued up about what was to come. The atmosphere in the room was brilliant from the start, there’s something about movements such as Fairtrade where it’s not unrealistic to expect the person sitting next to you at a conference will have an interesting story to tell. On my table alone there were four countries represented; the diversity in the room was a real highlight of the conference and a good example of what Fairtrade is about; building relationship with our neighbours across the world.

The theme of ‘sustainability’ laced the conference nicely, with Fatima Ismael from the Soppexcca Co-operative in Nicaragua opening the conference through explaining how Fairtrade producers in Nicaragua would adhere to sustainability targets, and adapt to climate change accordingly. Harriet Lamb, CEO of Fairtrade International then went on to explain how Fairtrade is helping farmers and producers from across the world to adapt to Climate Change. This excited me as I had always focussed on the economic aspect of Fairtrade, it hadn’t occurred to me that Fairtrade was also about protecting the environment. Where better to learn this gem of information than at the European Green Capital of 2015?!

Listening to Greg Valerio who I previously mentioned, Louise Nicholls from M & S and Linda McAvan MEP highlighted to me the great distance travelled by the Fairtrade campaign so far, as well as the challenge to keep moving. I felt enthused by reports of Fairtrade Gold mines, efforts to prioritise Fairtrade products in M&S, and the new emphasis on sustainability goals which are due to be set this year, but found myself contemplating a comment made by Mr Valerio: “It’s absurd that we have to campaign for fairness in carrying out daily transactions”. He’s right. There is much to do!

I attended two seminars; one on Resilience, Convergence and Fairtrade, and the other on Fairtrade in the Classroom. The first focussed on the need to create resilient communities both here and in developing nations due to the increasing risk of climate change, and our reliance on each other. It was great to learn about this using the example of cashew nuts from Liberation Nuts; a representative spoke about how cashew nut producers create resilient crops so that we are supplied with our commodity. I was delighted to leave this seminar with a free packet of Liberation Nuts.

The second seminar provided practical insights into how to communicate Fairtrade to young people in schools. This is where I had the biggest epiphany of the weekend. As we discussed the range of fantastic resources and ideas on offer to get Fairtrade into the classroom, I thought about the complexity of the trading system, and the amazing amount of indicators to consider when communicating Fairtrade. However Kate Jones, from the Fairtrade Foundation, who led the seminar brought to my attention the fact that communicating the mechanics of Fairtrade is not necessarily what matters when it comes to spreading the word about this valuable movement. What matters is that Fairtrade is as simple as ‘being fair’, and this is what we should be sharing with others. Never mind its complexity; all we really want is for the world to be a fairer place. That’s something we can all get to grips with!

The weekend ended with an opportunity to sign The Bristol Resolution, which committed Fairtrade to taking steps in support of the Sustainability Goals due to be set by the UN in September. This was signed by the mayor of Bristol to start with, and incredibly by two mayors from Lebanon who were attending the conference. This was a very hopeful note to end on. This is just a snippet of what went on at the conference. I travelled back to North Wales having gained a considerable amount of knowledge, and a huge chunk of encouragement. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the scale of the task when it comes to making trade fair, but this weekend taught me that the Fairtrade movement is global, and that as we work together for fairness we are automatically building a very resilient and healthy partnership with our neighbours across the world.