New Internationalist

Forward, the Fair Trade brigade!

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.

Comments on Forward, the Fair Trade brigade!

Leave your comment


  • Maximum characters allowed: 5000
  • Simple HTML allowed: bold, italic, and links

Registration is quick and easy. Plus you won’t have to re-type the blurry words to comment!
Register | Login

  1. #1 Aloke Surin 12 Oct 12

    Interesting and encouraging report. I am just hoping that the trade fair was not held in some big corporate dominated hotel or convention centre, but perhaps in an environment closer to the grassroots that it purports to promote? Pardon my cynicism,this is due to having been witness to opulent international conferences on world hunger or world poverty held in the past - in fancy five star hotels!

  2. #2 david cohen 13 Oct 12

    Having spent recent years battling for accountability and transparency in WTO, I welcome the Goa meeting and the hope it has inspired.
    WTO is an organization lacking in transparency with neither a heart nor a soul. It is dominated by vested interests who focus, in the name of free trade--they do not know from fair trade-- on pursuing Almighty profits
    I spend time advising groups advocating for public health protections, especially dealing with addictive harm from smoking and other tobacco use, and life threatening consequences from smoking and passive indoor smoke.
    Fair trade is needed to protect those who are vulnerable, for supporting crafts people and smaller enterprises and protecting public health and the environment. That's for starters.
    So we need a transparent and accountable WTO. We have to press our governments to insist that that is a minimal requirement of the WTO.
    David Cohen,
    Washington, DC

  3. #3 mari 13 Oct 12

    I've spent a lot of time in filthy little hotels Aloke, covering stories in the boondocks. I share yr distaste for discussing poverty in 5 star conference centres!

    I discovered the FT organisers got a really good, unbeatable deal for this one!!! And Since I was not an official participant, I paid my own bill!!

  4. #4 Ludwig Pesch 13 Oct 12

    Some progress is noticeable here in the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany: an ever wider range of ’Fair Trade’ labelled products is now available in mainstream supermarkets. (Misleading labels are regularly exposed by the media and surely not viable in the long run.)
    Remains to hope that the greater affordability will indeed enable average consumers to make informed choices - and this must not be at the expense of producers.
    Provided this is assured, affordability will change habits irrevocably: most won't mind paying a reasonable extra amount for a combination of quality combined with a move towards fairness in trade relation. There's a task for educators to bring home that this nothing short of legitimate self-interest and a small price to pay for avoiding violent conflicts and pollution!

  5. #5 Mathew 21 Oct 12

    The potential to build awareness on Fair Trade is immense in India - it just tends to get tied down to fair prices but that there is a whole lot of concerns tied up at the back end, needs to be taken into account. Building this domestic market might take time but will have a much more positive impact in terms of market stability, in the long run.

    Something that concerns me is that there is a huge emphasis on fair trading practices till the stuff gets to the market. What then? Are the prices being charged to final consumers, fair? In many cases, I dont think that is happening and we need to be collectively sensitive to that.

    There has been a recent on-going exercise to build a domestic retail umbrella brand and I hope that is one way to take the principles out into the market.

  6. #6 Tahira 29 Oct 12

    ’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.’ So true.
    Also great comment, Matthew. You hit the nail on the head.

Subscribe to Comments for this articleArticle Comment Feed RSS 2.0

Guidelines: Please be respectful of others when posting your reply.

About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

Read more by Mari Marcel Thekaekara

Get our free fortnightly eNews


Videos from visionOntv’s globalviews channel.

Related articles

Popular tags

All tags

New Internationalist Blogs

New Internationalist hosts several different blogs, from the Editor's Blog to the Majority World Blog, the Gaza Blog to the Books Blog

New Internationalist Blogs