Exploring Fair Trade Networks and the Future of Fair Trade

Exploring Fair Trade Networks and the Future of Fair Trade
02 mai 2024

How can we build a better world?

That’s what fair trade is all about – building a better world.

“In 1989, when I was 16, it was just one of those years where it felt like everything was changing for the better – the Berlin wall was coming down, Nelson Mandela was released from prison – and it really felt like there was a real, global solidarity movement. It just felt like a better world was possible,” said Joanna Abena Fianu, as she opened her presentation as guest speaker at our Durham supporter event. At this time, the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) were bringing together people who shared this exact mindset, with the ambition of proliferating partnerships around the globe, particularly with marginalised producers.

Joanna joined us in the beautiful setting of Durham’s Town Hall to explore the journey, principles and proponents of Fairtrade with Shared Interest supporters. 2024 marks the 30th birthday of Fairtrade Foundation. Since its conception, when its iconic mark was to be found on just three or four products, the Fairtrade brand has now grown to the point whereby one in three bananas is Fairtrade. There are now 6,000 Fairtrade products, recently generating £30m in Fairtrade Premium.

“You’ll find that Fairtrade mark everywhere – when you go to Greggs, it’s on the juice, on the snacks, it’s on the teas and coffees. If you go to Aldi, in particular, many of their Christmas or Easter chocolates come with the Fairtrade mark on.” Joanna explained. “If you are looking for Fairtrade products on Amazon, you’ll find it under the banner of ‘Climate Pledge Friendly’, yet, there are a range of different marks to be identified on the platform that do not necessarily carry a distinction between each other”. Joanna emphasised that the promotion of Fairtrade on Amazon works against many other similar claims: “They don’t really make the case for Fairtrade as meaningfully as they could on Amazon”, she continued.

Where to shop fair trade

So, what do you do if you want to go to a place where you are not going to be offered lots of unethical or less ethical products? Joanna asks us to visit a fair trade shop instead. Although, in Durham and the North East in general, this could be considered difficult. As Joanna explained, just next door to Durham Town Hall, we could once find a magnificent building that used to be home to a fair trade shop, and many locals as well as the wider fair trade community were sad to see it close its doors recently.

Nevertheless, fair trade shopping options remain – in Europe, they can often be found as ‘world shops’; “There are at least 500 in Germany, 200 in the USA and Canada, 120 in France and 260 in Italy.” Joanna explained. “We know this because they are all members of networks, just like BAFTS Fairtrade Network”. Joanna has been involved with BAFTS since 2011. They are a network member of the Fairtrade organisation and they act as a solidarity and support unit for anybody who is running a fair trade shop in the UK.

The Ten Principles of Fair Trade: A foundation for every fair trade enterprise

A cornerstone of Joanna’s presentation was ‘The Ten Principles of Fair Trade’. Through the course of BAFTS’ history, their commitment to these principles has never wavered, with each principle considered as important as the next. Joanna worked through each of these principles in relation to her own knowledge and experiences from working in fair trade, exemplifying how and why action must be taken to ensure a fairer world for farmers and artisans across the globe.

The first principle is opportunities for marginalised producers. At this stage, a special mention was given to Zaytoun, an ethical non-profit organisation selling quality Palestinian products in support of Palestinian farmers, who were also holding a stall at our event in the Great Hall. “It’s fantastic to see Jenny at the back selling Palestinian goods. It is heartening to see that

over the last year or so, the sale of Palestinian goods has actually increased because people want to do something to support the farmers, the artisans; the producers of Palestine.”

Joanna turned our attention to another fair trade enterprise supporting Palestinian farmers named Hadeel. Based in Edinburgh for over two decades, Hadeel sell traditional embroidery, glass and beautiful olive wood products. Although it is already difficult to work with Palestinians as a result of the current conflict which is devastating the region, Hadeel continue to work with marginalised Palestinian groups such as women and those with disabilities. “They are doing incredible work under the circumstances. Now, if you think of the large corporations – those that are not in the 0.4% of those committed to paying a living wage – they are not going to make that effort; as soon as practices become difficult as a big organisation, you go and find something that is easier.

“And this is the difference that fair trade makes.”

Principle two is about transparency in the supply chain. Where does the product come from? For example, some textile fair trade products come with a QR code that you can scan with your phone and it will bring up where the cotton was farmed, where the fabric dyes were from and who took part in the production process, sometimes accompanied by lovely pictures. A thoroughly fair, accountable and transparent supply chain.

As a global pandemic threatens the rich 2,500 year history of weaving, Sri Lankan handcraft retailer Selyn Textiles continues to push the industry forward with its proud collection of intricately handwoven textiles which are fair trade guaranteed and cruelty free. Joanna shared with us how Selyn utilise cutting-edge blockchain technology to achieve transparency on a much broader scale; so, you could use a blockchain to work out exactly where your item is from, anywhere in the world, whatever it is.

True Origin, formerly Just Trading Scotland (JTS), are a member of BAFTS and WFTO. “I feel like they are one of the great proponents of fair trade practices,” said Joanna. In motion, fair trade practices depend upon the partnership component – how are we listening and responding to farmers and artisans when they tell us what they need? JTS exemplify this pillar of fair trade practice in their partnership with The Balmore Trust. Together, they have established a close working partnership with KASFA (Kaporo Smallholder Farmer’s Association). Since 2009, JTS has imported and developed a market for the aromatic Kilombero Rice grown by farmers in the Karonga region of Northern Malawi, now supplying it to Fairtrade supporters around the UK. As their partnership has developed, they have learned more about the challenges facing the communities of smallholder farmers they work with on various projects such as improving seed quality and managing water to mitigate against the effects of climate change.

One particular challenge they have learned from this experience is the importance of supporting and empowering women in these communities. JTS worked with Grace Mwanguti, a Kilombero rice farmer in the Karonga District of Northern Malawi, to develop a project making fuel briquettes from waste rice husks. This project aims to reduce deforestation by creating a fuel for cooking that can be used as an alternative to firewood collected from the hillsides. Reflecting on this project, Joanna commended and promoted the approach of asking the producers directly what problems they face, and how best they think it could be fixed. “It is just about listening to people and honouring their skills and experience. That is what Fairtrade is about,” affirmed Joanna.

“In relation to Fairtrade payments – Fairtrade isn’t just about how much can be provided, it’s also about when it can be provided. So, actually, we say that if you need half upfront, you can receive that – so nobody who is already marginalised has to go into debt to pay for an order.” Joanna turned our attention to recent events which compromised the ethical conscious of the

nation. “When you think about companies through the Pandemic, executives at Primark were cancelling their orders and, in essence, not paying for many items that had already been made. Meanwhile, Fairtrade was doing the exact opposite. They were like, ‘Okay, the things that they have made for us, we can’t sell, so we’ll get them to make face masks instead, and develop work for these marginalised groups to help get them through the next difficult time.’

“This is another component of Fairtrade that distinguishes it from everything else.”

The next principle of fair trade that Joanna highlighted was no child labour and no forced labour. “Child labour is always nuanced. It sounds like it shouldn’t be, but it is. If you are the child of a cocoa farmer, for example, as long as you go to school and have a childhood, you would be expected to perform suitable work tasks on the farm,” she explained. However, one of the prominent challenges facing the child labour market is the exploitation of their unique dexterity capabilities. 

Joanna explained that one product requiring a high level of dexterity in its production is rugs. If you are buying a rug, a rug with the GoodWeave mark on can confirm that there has been no child labour involved in the development process. Fast fashion also poses a large problem, prompting increased demand on textile production and subsequent avenues for child labour to intensify. Likewise, the GoodWeave mark is an assurance that your clothes are produced free of child labour.

The future of fair trade

On the topic of fast fashion, Joanna told us that one comment she hears a lot is, ‘how do we bring young people into fair trade?’ And she believes that there are two key ways we can achieve this. Through fast fashion and through climate change with a focus on zero waste and becoming plastic-free. Joanna lead with an example of a world shop in Reading which used to be an idyllic café before Coronavirus swept the nation. “They decided to convert their space into a zero-waste shop and it has since been fantastically successful for them because it has brought people in who require refills for different products and they may not have necessarily gone to a fair trade shop beforehand,” Joanna said.

“So, when we talk about the future of fair trade retail, it is an extension of sustainability. It is an extension of environmental concern. It is to help people to understand that people and the planet are a part of the same ecosystem,” she continued. “So, we have a few things to think about for the future of fair trade retail. One of the challenges is fairwashing.” Fairwashing relates to false claims being made of engagements in fair trade practices by organisations looking to capitalise off of the fair trade sector or improve their brand image. This phenomenon will strengthen its grip on future commerce as an EU law comes into force which necessitates companies have an awareness of the working conditions and processes within their supply chains.

E-Commerce also poses a challenge because it costs money to bring a product in front of the eyes of customers in an online space, creating economic barriers for smaller fair trade organisations in particular. Simultaneously, a decline in footfall through our towns and city centres has led to the sad closures of many fair trade stores we know and love. 

E-commerce can also be an opportunity: an opportunity to have your own website, to use e-commerce sites and to use social media to promote your brand, sell your products and maximise your impact. Through digital tools, we are able to tell the stories of our products in diverse and innovative ways, bringing consumers closer than ever before to the heritage of a brand, or the far-reaching impact of their purchase. Joanna argued that story telling is a key opportunity to add value to fair trade products and a facilitator in the thoughtful process of ‘I’m going to buy fair trade instead’ that many consumers go through.

The New Solidarity Economy

Fairtrade also pops up in places you might not expect. “We have a new concept called Friends of BAFTS,” Joanna said, “You will find that If you go to cathedral shops or museum shops, or places like the national trust, you will find fair trade brands in there. They don’t want to be selling plastic rubbish; they want to sell items that fit in with their brand values and mission. So, whenever you go to a heritage property, look out for fair trade goods in the shop.”

eBay for Change is another advocate for the fair trade movement. Set up three years ago as a partnership between eBay, Social Enterprise UK and the World Fair Trade Organisation, this project aims to harness eBay’s 26-million UK customers to make the case for sustainable business. “eBay’s social impact lead used to work for Ben and Jerry’s, so he knows about fair trade”, asserted Joanna. “If you go to eBay, there is a little badge that you can find that states the product is from a social enterprise and is part of the eBay for change programme. It’s just a case of helping people make good choices.”

Social enterprises are a part of a new solidarity economy.

Social Enterprise UK has joined forces with like-minded organisations to form a group which lobbies the government to try and make it easier for consumers to do the right thing. ‘Good Market’ is one of the websites you can visit to find out about suppliers, social enterprises and affiliated marks and certifications. “It comes down to making good choices, doing the right thing and buying things from people who you know are doing things properly.”

Thank you for reading. Shared Interest has proudly supported producers who do things fairly since 1990. If you wish to learn about our upcoming supporter events across the UK, please click here. If you would like to join our community of action, solidarity and equity, then please click on the button below to find out how to become a member of Shared Interest.

Thank you for reading. Shared Interest has proudly supported producers who do things fairly since 1990. If you wish to learn about our upcoming supporter events across the UK, please click here. If you would like to join our community of action, solidarity and equity, then please click on the button below to find out how to become a member of Shared Interest.

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