The International Fair Trade Towns Conference – my best bits!

The International Fair Trade Towns Conference (IFFTC) in Bristol last weekend was my first IFFTC. My top five best bits/tips:

  1. The people
  2. The ideas
  3. The re-energising effect
  4. The organisation
  5. The extras

The people

As the only available member from Fair Trade Cardiff to go to the conference this year, I turned up on Saturday morning on my lonesome, unsure of who I would find at the conference. Immediately, I was adopted by a group of South Gloucestershire Fair Trade supporters, who sat with me discussing our Ammanford Fair Trade guests (who had walked to the conference from Ammanford, and it had taken 10 days), and the last conference that they had attended- in Japan. This was an easy environment to strike up a conversation in, and the open space session on the Sunday morning gave the opportunity other than refreshment breaks for people to get together and discuss ideas and difficulties. This worked wonderfully when it turned out that several of the other people on my table were also from Wales, and it was encouraging listening to the similarities between groups, in both cities, towns, villages and counties. Throughout the weekend Helen and Elen from Fair Trade Wales were great at linking me up with lots of other supporters I wasn’t aware of before. It was great to meet people from across the world raising awareness for Fair Trade, from Lebanon, Nicaragua, the Netherlands, the USA, Ireland, Columbia and more, and whenever I mentioned I was from Fair Trade Cardiff, I was almost always met with ‘What a lovely shop there is!’ so well done Fair Dos!

The ideas

Going to the conference, I was quite concerned that whilst there would be lots of ideas, our group would be too small to be able to do any of them. The ideas were so plentiful, however, and from groups in similar situations such as ours, that I needn’t have worried. In the workshop on Sustainable Cities and Fair Trade, we heard from Fair Trade Belgium. Did you know that in Belgium there is a sixth goal to gain Fairtrade status? It is to start a new local initiative to support sustainable food. Ideas of things that have been done, such as a LOaF lunch (Local, Organic and Fairtrade), making liquers from Fairtrade chocolate and a local brewery and ‘twinning’ farmers alongside new ideas – why not include Fair Trade products, such as rice, oil and spices in local veg boxes- enthused me and had me writing and drawing more notes than I could imagine. Rugby balls for the Rugby World Cup, working with Welsh and Fairtrade gold, campaigning for local Fair Trade markets in the Global south, a Fairtrade café crawl, a Fairtrade and local banana split, a Fair trade game of Karuta. So many things that we can get involved in and plan for in Cardiff, and some that we can slowly build upon and work towards.

The re-energising effect

I became interested in Fair Trade from a very young age. My parents tell me about a talk I gave to their homegroup about how important it was, which led to them deciding to only serve Fair Trade tea, coffee and biscuits. However, whilst I make sure that I buy Fair Trade things, I find it quite tricky as an adult to get the importance across to other adults. I don’t want to appear rude or judgmental. The conference really re-energised me in realising the importance of getting that message across to people. Greg Valerio‘s  talk about Stella, who pans for gold, cleans it with mercury and then burns it off in her house, leading to ill health and birth defects. Fatima‘s description of how the cooperatives she works for are raising awareness of cancer and health issues, diversifying producers income through growing cocoa which is more resilient than coffee to climate change, and planting tress to protect the soil. The Green video put together by the Bristol Fairtrade network, and Rudi Dalvali‘s talk showing how Fair Trade is not just about removing exploitation by paying producers fairly, but also about changing the trading system, putting producers into the decision making process and making farms, mines and workshops sustainable in the long-term and healthy for the workers. All of these things and more made me realise, yet again, how important Fair Trade is, and how wide the message that we need to get across is. Whilst there is a very high recognition of Fair Trade and the Fairtrade mark amongst the general public, it is quite a narrow understanding. How do we get more of this understanding across?

The organisation

I know this might seem like a strange thing to put in the top five, but the organisation of the conference was exceptional, and a huge well done and thank you needs to go to Jenny Foster, and her team of staff and volunteers for making the event run so smoothly. From the moment I entered the building on the Saturday morning, I was never once lost, I knew exactly which workshops I was in and when, all the technology worked, the whole event ran to time. It was spectacular. More than that, I didn’t feel rushed. It felt that the right amount of time was given for people to get to know each other, to have those important conversations and link with who they thought was important. For example, in the open space session I met some people from Hay-on-Wye, who told me that they had heard that Kool Skools were possibly thinking of coming to Cardiff next year with someone who produces their school uniforms. I was then able to go over and have a good conversation with Kool Skools who told me all about our Cathay’s Secondary school who are moving their school polo shirts to Fairtrade, whilst also purchasing one of their conference polo-shirts. Without the organisation, I wouldn’t have got to know people, been re-energised or gathered as many ideas as I did and for that, the organisers deserves a medal.

The extras

All this may well sound amazing, but the conference was not the only thing to happen on the weekend. The Bristol Fairtrade team had yet again been fabulous in arranging lots of events for those attending the conference. Barn dances, FareShare meals, Bus tours, trips to Garstang and, my favourite, the Make Sunday’s special and fair Fayre. Make Sundays special happens once a month in Bristol, and this time Fair Trade stalls joined the regular fayre. It was lovely to end the conference buzzing with ideas, and to walk through the fayre on the way back to the station with new friends, finding out how many different people are selling Fair Trade goods, and finding things I didn’t know existed in a Fair Trade format. I came home from the conference with a very stuffed bag full of things, polo-shirts, books, freekeh, a memory stick from the conference with videos, notes and talks from the weekend and many business cards and leaflets. I also came home feeling re-energised at the importance of Fairtrade, getting the message across to people, and how we in Cardiff, Wales and the world can continue to campaign for global justice.