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Forward, the Fair Trade brigade!

Fair Trade

There are fears of Fair Trade labels being used unethically. Photo: livivanili, reproduced under a CC license.

An international gathering that promises a meeting of minds and experiences is always exciting. So attending a conference organized by the Fair Trade Forum India (FTFI) and the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) was a superb opportunity to learn about a wide spectrum of work in a diverse range of countries. There were people from Indonesia, Nepal, China, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Pakistan, Korea, the Philippines, Bangladesh and every part of India. I’m not on the international conference circuit, so it was all fairly new to me.

More people turned up than expected. But the icing on the cake was that the meeting was in Goa, with the smell of the sea and balmy breezes wafting gently onto gracious verandahs. Spectacular views were thrown in too!

The theme was ‘Building Consumer Confidence for Fair Trade.’ And while there were a few catastrophically boring speakers, most participants felt the meeting produced some clarity, while a few new ideas emerged to stimulate minds and creativity. The networking was the best part; it gave people hope. Here’s a smattering of participants’ reactions:

Samina Khan from Pakistan works with craftswomen who produce hand-embroidered cloth with centuries-old tradition behind them. She says: ‘I was wondering if I would drown in this Fair Trade ocean. I got a lift from the groups and the keynote address. Our board has village women along with industrialists for marketing. Yesterday, when I heard about keeping the balance between the consumers, producers and investors, I realized no-one needs to be pushed out if we can handle it with sensitivity.’

Rudi Dalvai, president of the WFTO feels, ‘There was good participation. Lots of focus on how to get into the mainstream. But good organizations should not be left out. As pioneers we have to keep the bar high to ensure that the social agenda – the fact that it’s for poor producers – behind Fair Trade remains the highest priority.’

Matthew from Keystone, India, had been amazed at government support in South Korea. ‘Last year the South Koreans hosted a huge meeting on organic agriculture. The mayor created a museum and restaurant for organic food on a large tract of land in the heart of Seoul and then handed it over to ordinary families to run. They started an enormous chain of 150 organic food stores. The same mayor is now ready to support Fair Trade. In India, we need to create that kind of awareness, sensitivity and focus on food. We need to create a unifying brand or logo for the consumer to recognize.’

It’s moving to hear stories of passion and commitment from different countries and villages of the world. It’s wonderful to actually feel that surge of fresh hope. Something, somewhere is working after all. In spite of globalization, bankers running away with pensioners’ savings, millions laid off and out of work while CEOs pocket bonuses for downsizing companies. In spite of the gloom and doom that periodically overtakes us all, I felt hope.

The slogan ‘Fair Trade, Not Aid’ brought new life to millions. Yesterday, someone pointed out, we need to market dignity and justice, not poverty and guilt. There was a resounding cheer. And it was taken on board in the resolutions produced by participants. I was surprised. Not pushing the face of poverty-stricken kids is old hat for seasoned campaigners, but many people are totally unaware of the now old battles to put dignity into the fight against poverty.

Newcomers are not aware that multinationals are trying to jump on to the Fair Trade bandwagon and use the Fair Trade label unethically. Yes, there are still many battles to be fought and won. We need more introspection and self criticism. Rival groups must shed egos, dispense with petty politics and work together. But when the chips are down, and the last word is said, we’ve come a long way. Now, I hope, we can only go forward.

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