As a Fair Trade activist, I usually do all that I can to expand the movement and support fair businesses. But to be a good activist, it is equally important to be educated in what it is you are trying to implement…or at least this was my excuse for my most recent travels!
This past month I found myself alone on a plane to Italy on a quest to better understand the Fair Trade movement in a global context. After a brief layover in London, where of course you can find fair trade Kit Kats, I was off to Milan, host of the 2015 World Fair Trade Week and World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) Conference. Nearly 270 people representing 60 countries attended the conference and I was lucky enough to meet and speak with many of them!
Attendees at the conference ranged from WFTO members to store owners to activists; put all of us in the first ever green certified hotel in Milan and what do you get? A week of good feelings, high energy, and excitement to push the fair trade movement to the next level. Despite the language barriers many of us faced, we were all there for the same purpose and this made us feel connected, without even saying a word! That was so empowering.
As a volunteer at the conference, I worked for the WFTO in conducting video interviews, social media coverage, and preparing presentations. I was fortunate enough to be able to ask crucial questions and start important conversations about the Fair Trade movement with people like Safia Minney, founder & CEO of People Tree, Geoff White, CEO of Trade Aid, the well known Indian journalist Palagummi Sainath, and many more.
Highlights of the conference included a fashion show, a fair cuisine night, a session on WFTO branding, and best practices in fair trade campaigns. This last one was particularly interesting to me because I am on the steering committee of the U.S Fair Trade Campaigns and have worked on a campaign at my university for the past couple years to become a fair trade university. Fair trade campaigns are still relatively new in the U.S. while Europe has successfully ben doing them for a while, so it was neat to learn what things have worked and the difficulties they’ve encountered.
Sophie Tack of Oxfam-Magasins du Monde in Belgium shared some wonderful insights about their successes in campaigning for Fair Trade as well as what they have learned from the things that didn’t go quite as planned. She said the goals of a fair trade campaign are to denounce injustice, propose alternatives, mobilize citizens, and question rule makers. She also said a campaign can take up to a year to plan and the planning and timing can be the most difficult, to get everyone on board behind the same objective, intended audience, message, slogan, tools the campaign will use, products to promote, and events related to the campaign.
Leaving the conference I felt an overwhelming mix of emotions. On the one hand, I was extremely motivated and excited to continue pushing the fair trade movement forward. Meeting successful “fair trad-ers” from around the world is so energizing – it really reminds us that the fair trade movement is a global movement and has the potential to positively affect so many artisans and farmers. On the other hand, I had learned some very depressing things about the current state of world poverty and global development. And one of the speakers said that the fair trade business model might not be what solves many of the issues developing-world producers face. Rather an emphasis on systems like Fair Trade and how things can be done differently.
Perhaps these difficult questions can be answered in 2017 at the next World Fair Trade Week in India!
Ciao for now!