I was offered a job with Fair Trade Wales just over a year ago now. The call came and I held it together long enough to accept. Then I cried. I fell in love with Fairtrade at the age of eight. There was a talk in my church and I was converted. What a simple and easy way to ensure that the things we buy don’t further people’s poverty. As a teen I went to shopping malls, local gigs and read magazines. But I was asking shopkeepers about their Ethical Trading Policies, serving up Fairtrade refreshments at gigs and avidly reading Activist magazine for new ways of the world becoming a more balanced and fair place. I never would have guessed, though, that 20 years after my first Fairtrade encounter, I could say ‘I’m the Programme Manager for Fair Trade Wales.’ !
My first year here has been a whirlwind. I’ve met so many amazing people and found out so much more about Fair Trade, amongst a flurry of emails, calls, events and meetings. My job is to support people who want to raise awareness of Fairtrade and learn more about it. In practical terms this includes meeting Fair Trade groups, offering support, telling people what we’re up to, and making sure that what we do represents local voices. I’ve learned a lot in my past year, but there a couple of things that stick in mind that I’d like to share with you.
You are not alone
When you are a Fair Trade supporter it’s easy to feel you are the only person you know who is interested. Not being able to convince even the people you live with to buy Fairtrade is so demoralising. When they know that such a small difference to the shopping basket makes such a big difference to the farmers and workers but still don’t buy Fairtrade, what do you do? Things improve when you join a local Fair Trade group (why not join your local one?) as you can work together, but it’s still hard to see your contribution making a difference when global trade rules favouring the rich and punishing the poor are still there, year after year. This year I have been priviledged to meet groups across Wales, to hear what they’ve done and what’s coming up, to meet people who volunteer their time, energy, money and skills for a cause they are deeply committed to. After a group meeting or event, I am always enthused and have renewed determination to keep campaigning to make a difference for small-holder farmers the world over. Being able to see that we are not alone, and how this patchwork of people across Wales leads to greater things shows me that what we think are small actions have big impacts.
Fairtrade makes a difference
You know when you’ve been on an incredible holiday? You get home and tell everyone about it. After a while, though, the magic goes; the washing machine breaks, it’s pouring outside, and you can’t quite remember if it was an iguana, or a cameleon you were talking about. The passion you had when you first came back has faded. It’s the same with Fairtrade. It seems odd to need reminding that Fairtrade makes a difference. I know it in my head. But just like that holiday fading, it is difficult to keep my heart remembering why I need to buy this chocolate, instead of that one. I think it’s true of a lot of Fairtrade supporters. Since starting working for Fair Trade Wales I have met people on the other end of the Fairtrade supply chain to me. We call them Fairtrade producers. Last year Wales had visits from at least six different Fairtrade producers, who are involved in producing coffee, gold, olive oil, and school uniforms. I was able to be a chauffeur, tourist guide and friend to these wonderful people. They continue to prove to both my head and my heart that Fairtrade makes a difference, and encourage me to keep campaigning.
As we are getting the finishing touches ready for Fairtrade Fortnight 2017 and I am looking forward to another visit from a producer who can teach me about Fairtrade rice and nuts, I can’t help reflecting back on some of the most powerful reminders I’ve had this year that Fairtrade makes a difference- the words of the producers themselves.
‘Now I work within Fairtrade, I feel like I am good Mum, as I can spend time with my daughter, instead of having to work constantly,’
‘I am 32, my father was a Fairtrade coffee farmer, and I was able to go to school and university because of his earnings,’
‘Last year there was a fire in the town. Because of the higher prices we receive through Fairtrade, we were able to rebuild homes and the school,’
‘In my country, it is common for people to pat an official on the back (pay money) to have them overlook something. But not with the Fairtrade auditor. He will not accept a pat on the back,’
‘Before we started working with the Fairtrade Foundation, we had about one death a month in the gold mines. This is quite typical of mining communities where we live. Since starting to work with them in 2012, we have not had a single mine death,’
So why not join me and get involved? I promise it will be fun.