Is it time for Fairtrade Milk (again) -response from Fairtrade Foundation

Since this subject has been in the news a lot over the last month or so, please see below a shortened article (full one available on the Fairtrade Foundation website) about their response to how we in the UK might best help our own dairy farmers. The full article is written by Barbara Crowther, Director of Policy and Public Affairs for the Fairtrade Foundation.

“Shoppers in Asda in Stafford must have got a shock when they saw two cows in the aisle. Following further price cuts from milk processors, dairy farmers have recently escalated their protests to a Milk Trolley Challenge removing their product from shop shelves because the price no longer covers the cost of production.

This is the refrain of many farmers around the world, from cocoa to tea to bananas. It’s why banana farmers were in the UK last year knocking on the doors of government and the Fairtrade Foundation was asking the Government business department to launch its own investigation into the negative livelihood and sustainability impacts of price wars and cheap food. Sadly the Government reply merely said everything was working very nicely in the interests of consumers.

Except it seems that shoppers themselves disagree. Although not scientific, when the newspaper Metro polled its readers on whether they would like to see fair trade milk, 94% of people agreed. Under pressure from dairy farmers, this week Morrisons announced a new milk brand offering their customers the option of paying 10p more for a litre, with a promise that the money would go to the farmers via its milk supplier Arla. Will its shoppers rise to the challenge?

The question has been raised once again why Fairtrade can’t just begin at home and extend our label and fair price promise to UK dairy farmers. Could we make our Mark work on milk? It’s a fair question, and is something that has been looked at, and discussed many times – not least as part of a ‘Local and Fair’ conference three years ago, bringing Fairtrade and Cumbrian farmers groups together to discuss the issues they hold in common.

Fairtrade was born from the needs of farmers and workers who often earn less than the US$2 per day absolute poverty line, who live in countries with little or no social safety net, and are far removed from the markets they sell to. UK dairy farmers are able to take their protest to the doors of supermarkets and processors, lobby MPs directly or via farmers’ unions and organisations such as the NFU or Small Farmers Association. The farmers and farm workers we represent have not got this access.  They rely on Fairtrade and its partners to lobby on their behalf.

In short, we are 100% behind the concept of fair trade milk, but we’re not necessarily the right organisation to invest in the work that would be required to set up such a scheme, which we believe would also need to deliver against sustainable agricultural practices and high animal welfare standards too. A number of retailers have taken matters into their own hands, through schemes such as Sainsbury’s Dairy Development Group, Waitrose farmgate milk pricing, or Booths Fair Milk programme. Farmers’ groups warn that these schemes have addressed the prices for liquid milk sold in pints and litres, but not the vast tonnes of milk that go into food processing and dried milk products that are part of the problem. So a label on the milk cartons bought in shops may not be the answer at all.

The irony is that, whilst the price wars on milk, bananas, tea and other daily basket items allow retailers to price match on a daily basis, slowly ratcheting them down, any attempt by retailers to coordinate a pricing model designed to return the cost of sustainable production to farmers across the whole industry could be deemed price fixing and subject to investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority. Several supermarkets and processors were fined tens of millions of pounds in August 2011 precisely on this subject. There is a point to this focus on pure consumer interest – it is designed to prevent industry conspiracies and protect consumers like you and me from being ripped off. But the question is left – whose job is it to protect the suppliers?

The Fairtrade Foundation was one of many organisations that successfully lobbied for the establishment of a Grocery Code Adjudicator to ensure fair play between retailers and their suppliers, according to the Grocery Sector Code of Practice. It is clearly already doing good and useful work, but neither its mandate nor the Code itself, are allowed to investigate issues of below-cost of production trading. Its focus remains on supermarkets and their direct suppliers, and does not include for example, the relationship between suppliers and primary producers. Farmers who sell via intermediary companies aren’t covered. Without more transparency in supply chains on farmgate and trading prices, it is almost impossible to analyse where the real problems in delivering fair prices to farmers really lie.

With the launch of new Sustainable Development Goals scheduled for September 2015, every government in the world will become accountable for delivery – including a new goal on Sustainable Production and Consumption. Is this an opportunity to think afresh about the kind of mechanisms and regulations to address unfair trading practices in a comprehensive way? Could it incentivise best practices in sustainable agriculture and fair trading? We in the Fairtrade Foundation think so.  It would require vision, some progressive businesses to back it, the Fairtrade movement to champion it (we will), and a government with the political will to make it happen.

Posted in Uncategorized

Fair Trade structures in Austria (after Kathryn’s visit)

I couldn’t let two weeks in Bad Ischl, Austria, pass me by without seeking out a fair trade shop and enquiring about how fair trade is organised in Austria. The local fair trade shop was the “Ischler Weltladen” (Ischl World Shop) which turned out to be independent and very similar to what you might expect to see in a typical BAFTS shop. It seems that it was run by volunteers and had elected its own governance and constitution, which I will mention again a little later on. Hopefully you will enjoy comparing and contrasting the systems in the UK.

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Some of the products in the Ischl World Shop

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More fair trade items in the Ischl World Shop, Upper Austria

The Syndicate of World Shops (ARGE) is the umbrella organisation for fair trade shops in Austria and its member shops are only allowed to use their World Shop logo if they abide by an agreement. Their logo incorporates the wording “Act fairly. Buy purposefully”.  The Syndicate of World Shops (abbreviated to ARGE from its German name) is a member of WFTO and its shops must observe the 10 principles of Fair Trade. That is very similar to BAFTS, but I couldn’t find any information about membership fees or percentages of fair trade required to be held by shops. I assume the 60% laid down by WFTO applies.

ARGE is the “service point” for 90 World Shops and a cafe, and was set up in 1982 out of twelve “Third World” Shops to represent World Shops, improve co-operation between them, advise them and to represent their interests in working with fair trade suppliers. It is also a member of, and represented on, the Committee of FAIRTRADE Austria (their equivalent of our Fairtrade Foundation). It was created to raise public awareness of the context of development politics, and its most important international co-operation is with WFTO, although it also co-operates with eg Clean Clothes Campaign, The German Syndicate of World Shops, Oxfam, and Oikocredit. Its website also has an English version if you are interested.

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The ARGE shop members are not-for-profit and aim to strengthen fair trade projects and campaigns such as World Fair Trade Day, and the Campaign against Child Labour. ARGE also offers them a catalogue of recognised suppliers, to help them choose products which meet strict criteria. They work closely with fair trade importers. The overall turnover of the ARGE World Shops in Austria was 12.6 Million Euros (about £9,000,000). The independent Ischl World Shop invests its profits directly to fund projects which enable self-sufficiency, and feels that globalisation needs a structure to ensure that the profit-orientated market isn’t allowed to dispense with protecting producers, workers and consumers.

One of the main (but by no means the only) distributors and suppliers of Austrian fair Trade Shops is EZA Fairer Handel GmbH (EZA Fair Trade Ltd) a limited liability company which was established in 1975, has three of its own World Shops used primarily for testing the market, and whose profits are reinvested in the company to strengthen fair trade principles. In some ways it reminds me a bit of Traidcraft. There is an English info sheet available here eza_sd_englischneu 

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Prominent EZA fair Trade stand at Ischl SPAR supermarket, Upper Austria

EZA is a member of WFTO, EFTA, helped to initiate the foundation of Fairtrade (one word) and is a licensee of thebio_austria_logo FAIRTRADE Mark. Their products were evident in the Ischl World Shop, and I was pleased to notice them quite widely in supermarkets, although most seemed to be commodities. There is even a Bio-Austria logo, awarded if goods are produced by fair trade partner organisations according to organic farming principles. The EZA website quotes the 94 World Shops and states them as its most important channel of distribution.

As a pure point of comparison to the UK, we currently have 44 BAFTS shop members with a total turnover of around £3,366,000, so there are about twice as many shops in Austria and their total turnover is three times as much. However, the total sales of Fairtrade marked products in Austria is 149 million euro (£106 million), compared with £1.67 billion in the UK – which is ten times as much. That probably has to do with supermarket power in the UK.

Posted in Fair Trade

Little Trove Founder Ramona on WFTO principle 2: Accountability and Transparency

Last month, I started a series called “The Heartbeat of Fair Trade” to expose the real workings of a fair trade organisation. A vast majority of people in the UK have heard of fair trade but really how many understand the 10 aspects of it? Certainly from my own experience people tend to focus on one or two principles such as “fair price” or “child labour”. Fair trade is much more than that. In fact writing this article itself shows our commitment to the second principle of fair trade; transparency and accountability.

Principle Two: Transparency and Accountability
The WFTO say this: “The organization is transparent in its management and commercial relations. It is accountable to all its stakeholders and respects the sensitivity and confidentiality of commercial information supplied. The organization finds appropriate, participatory ways to involve employees, members and producers in its decision-making processes. It ensures that relevant information is provided to all its trading partners. The communication channels are good and open at all levels of the supply chain”. Source: http://wfto.com/fair-trade/10-principles-fair-trade 

As a fair trade organisation, Little Trove has clear policies, employee handbooks, operations manuals and staff meetings where staff are fully informed of management procedures. Being a small company, staff are constantly involved in the decision making on products, design and anything else that affects their work and our business.

In relation to our producers, we communicate clearly with them, setting down expectations, keeping in regular contact, keeping lines of communication clear so that any problems or challenges can be overcome together, visiting groups on the ground to show them other products we promote, keeping them informed of our marketing plan to promote their goods (such as which trade shows) and answering any questions they have.

We also encourage all our producers to be transparent and accountable too. We ask all of them to provide us with information and photographs regarding their workers, working conditions, wages, any events or training they hold for employees, any environmentally-friendly initiatives they carry out as well as any employee participation initiatives or profit sharing they do. We cannot expect that all producer groups are aware of all aspects of fair trade or that they are 100% compliant with all principles. By being transparent about what’s expected, we aim to move the producer groups towards greater transparency too.

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 Fair Trade Principle 2: Transparency & Accountability

I feel the greatest transparency that fair trade organisations offer is the free provision of supplier information. By this I mean providing information on their producer groups and relevant photographs to any stakeholder or customer. Many companies, like us, provide “producer stories” on the back of labels, on packaging, in our brochures and even on point of sale posters.

Sceptics might say this is all about clever marketing. Clever marketing to get customers to buy more. Sure, it has that purpose. Connecting buyer with the producer story makes buying the product more compelling. But the amount of time I spend collecting this information, designing labels, making posters, answering customers’ questions about producers, producing blogs or emails about the producers outweighs any financial return. More than half our customers are not fair trade shops. They aren’t expecting or wanting all this information. They buy the product because it’s nice and the mere fact that a fair trade wholesaler is selling them is enough for them. So why go to all this trouble? Because it keeps us transparent and accountable.

Being transparent and accountable is not the usual way of doing business in Asia or Africa. There is secrecy at all levels. You will find that many Asian and African countries are highly corrupt.  They have mega rich politicians and businessmen. Outside their affluent neighbourhoods, you’ll find the dirt poor. The wealth isn’t evenly distributed. What’s worse is that there isn’t even the appetite to distribute it evenly. The rich get richer and don’t seem bothered about the poor in their countries.

Transparency International produces a “Corruption Perception Index” that attempts to classify 183 countries according to levels of corruption. Looking at the countries Little Trove works in: India ranks 95th, Indonesia 100th, South Africa 64th and Burundi 172nd! (Source: http://www.transparency.org/cpi2011/results)

Transparency International also report:

“More than 40 percent of employees at board and senior manager level said that sales or cost numbers had been manipulated by their company. This included reporting revenue early to meet short-term financial targets, under-reporting costs to meet budget targets, and requiring customers to buy unnecessary stock to meet sales targets.”

“Over 12 months, one in four people paid a bribe when they came into contact with one of nine institutions and services, from health to education to tax authorities.”

Bribery and corruption is a common problem. Fair trade organisations that work in that environment are going against the grain by staying on the straight and narrow. Being transparent reduces levels of corruption. I will certainly not pay any bribes. I was once asked by an Indonesian producer whether I wanted 3 invoices; one for customs under-declaring the goods, one for the insurers over-declaring the goods and a third for us to use correctly listing the products. My answer was quite simple: No!

Ramona Hirschi

Founder, Little Trove

Posted in Fair Trade

CHAIR OF BAFTS’ Joanna Pollard, writes: “WHAT IS BAFTS FOR? “

Representing BAFTS at recent fair trade events has made me realise there are lots of misconceptions about what BAFTS actually stands for. We’ve been in existence for almost 20 years and still have 7 founder members amongst us, but it is fair to say that BAFTS has changed dramatically in recent years.

The most important thing to remember is that BAFTS is a community. Our constitution states that all members must work together to further the cause of fair trade retailing and wholesaling in the UK. Our members represent BAFTS and should use the BAFTS logo as a statement of pride in belonging to a national network of fair trade organisations. It is not a badge stating that an individual product is fair trade and should never be used as such.

Originally conceived as a trade body just for fair trade shops, where importers could apply to become registered suppliers for those shops, it was decided in 2011 that suppliers should become full members. This changed the way supplier members are allowed to refer to themselves. All members are required to have the BAFTS logo on their websites with a hyperlink back to the BAFTS website. We all need to use the words “Proud to be a BAFTS member”. Please note that BAFTS members are not allowed to refer to themselves as registered / certified fair trade importers or any similar wording.

Most of the criticism BAFTS receives is due to the misconception that we are certifying or registering people as fair trade. We are not, and never have. We simply don’t have the resources to do this, and it is important that members do not imply that we are. BAFTS is a membership organisation and the monitoring system of applications and renewals is purely to make sure that members are still compliant with our rules of membership.

The rules for BAFTS membership are based on the Ten Principles of Fair Trade, and we ask all our members to work towards increasing compliance with these principles. Some of the principles are adhered to by all members fully and without exception (eg Principle 5 – no child labour or forced labour). It’s worth remembering that this is only one of the ten principles – some lay people seem to believe that in order to be called fair trade a product need only adhere to this principle.

The principle many of our supplier members struggle with is Principle 9 – Promoting Fair Trade. This should go further than simply promoting your own goods using the words “fair trade” and talking to your customers about how your goods are produced. Campaigning for trade justice is a requirement of BAFTS membership and involvement in local fair trade groups, sharing fair trade news using social media and promoting or attending events are good ways to get involved in the wider fair trade movement. The renewals panel will be setting additional targets for members over the next few years and will be increasingly strict in applying membership criteria.

Please can all members check that you are using the correct wording and logo on all your promotional materials – if you have been a member for a while you may still be using the the old wording or logo so please make sure this is up to date. If you need a copy of the latest logo or the full policy for logo use please email Kathryn: membershipsupport@bafts.org.uk

Shop members need to be aware that, like them, supplier members are only required to stock 70% fair trade goods. This may mean that goods you buy from a BAFTS supplier member are not fairly traded – they may be made in the UK or another EU country or the supplier may simply not have been able to verify to their own satisfaction that they have been produced under fair trade conditions. So a label stating that the supplier is a member of BAFTS may be attached to a non-fair trade product for ease. We always recommend shops ask further questions about the provenance of individual product lines if they wish to stock exclusively fair trade goods. In practice almost all our supplier members stock at least 90% fair trade goods and we ask them to be clear where a product is not fairly traded but this is a point worth making.

Finally please can shops bear in mind that there is a list of current supplier members on the BAFTS website. It’s worth familiarising yourself with this. We regularly receive renewal forms with suppliers listed as BAFTS members who have not been members for several years. You may also be missing out on buying great new products from some of our newer members.

I’m proud to be a BAFTS member and I hope you are too. It’s great to see increasing involvement from more and more members and I hope you agree this is the best way for BAFTS to grow in confidence and promote fair trade to more and more of the public.

Joanna Pollard

BAFTS Chair

Posted in Fair Trade

Thoughts on The International Fair Trade Towns’ Conference by Joanna Pollard

We walked into the party like we were walking onto a yacht – OK we were stepping off one of the many small ferries which ply the waterways on which Bristol is built, but the Friday night party at the Create Centre (http://www.createbristol.org/) was a great start to the 9th International Fair Trade Towns Conference. The venue is a haven of environmental and sustainable living and the food we shared was all either local, sustainable or fair trade. This proved to be the perfect launch to the conference whose theme was “How Green Is Fairtrade?”

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Ferrying through the Bristol waterways

Not only is application of the Fairtrade Mark partly decided on the basis of envionmental concerns, Principle 10 of the WFTO Ten Principles is specifically concerned with protecting the environment, so fair trade is definitely a green issue. 

The impact of climate change on Latin American coffee farmers was brought home by the first speaker, Fatima Ismael of Nicaraguan coffee farming co-operative Soppexcca. It seemed natural that the conference should be kicked off by a producer, and Fatima’s research on the impact of increasingly unpredictable weather – hurricanes and cyclones as well as increasing temperatures – showed delegates how important it is to safeguard livelihoods. Leaf rust is not only causing one-off harvests to fail, but entire plantations to die. One solution is to diversify – plant other crops like cocoa, but the most sustainable answer is for fair trade farmers to produce goods for marketing to consumers in their own country, reducing food miles and connecting more people into the fair trade movement.

The environmental impact of unfair trading practices was highlighted by Greg Valerio, pioneer of Fairtrade gold. The traditional way of extracting gold, whether in Africa or Latin America, is to use mercury, whose negative impact on health has been well documented. Miners experience health problems or give birth to children with birth defects because they are neither educated about nor protected against the harmful effects of mercury. Greg’s impassioned plea for us to campaign for Fairtrade gold to be more widely available was one of the great calls to action of this conference.

Linda McAvan MEP and Harriet Lamb talked about the wider political implications of fair trade campaigning, reassuring us that our pleas are heard at a local, national and global level, so please don’t give up.

Over lunch the dedicated retail table attracted retailers from Japan, Sweden and Spain as well as the UK and covered a wide range of conversations around sourcing, selling and marketing fair trade goods in our different countries. 

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Jenny Foster, Chair of Fairtrade Bristol, hosting at the Conference

A series of workshops covering lots of different aspects of fair trade campaigning made up most of the rest of the conference. I attended a workshop about regional networking which also contained one of the most interesting attendees, the mayor of a Lebanese fair trade town, one of ten in the country. Lebanon is, along with Ghana, pioneering the roll out of fair trade towns in the global south, where fair trade is seen as a way for people to buy local and support local artisans and farmers. We hope to make further connections with Lebanese fair trade campaigners and support their goods. 

On Saturday evening we were taken on a very informative bus tour around Bristol – marred only when the guide suggested we might have been shopping in Primark – if there was a group of people guaranteed not to have been shopping there, it was us! The tour ended at the Passenger Shed next to Bristol Temple Meads station where the sustainability theme was continued as we were treated to a meal made by charity FareShare (http://www.fareshare.org.uk/) from food that would otherwise have been thrown away some of which had been rescued from the previous weekend’s Glastonbury festival. Entertainment was provided by a choir from a local Fairtrade primary school and after their bedtime by a group of folk musicians who taught us country dancing. Any BAFTS members who attended our 2015 Conference and participated in the Bollywood dancing workshop will understand how much fun was had by all.

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Bruce Crowther, Fairtrade Towns’ pioneer from Garstang, with other delegates

Sunday was a day for networking and reflecting – Bruce Crowther, godfather of the Fairtrade towns movement, Adam Gardner of the Fairtrade Foundation and Tadeusz Makulski pioneer of International Fair Trade Towns explained how the movement has reached over 1700 towns across the world and WFTO President Rudi Dalvai explained how fair trade organisations, rather than products with the Fairtrade Mark, may hold the key to the expansion of fair trade towns.

Our Sunday workshop was led by representatives from the USA and Sweden and was a nuts-and-bolts examination of social media, including our very own Twitter party. This is a topic about which BAFTS members always ask for advice and we hope to share the knowledge gathered here with all our members soon.

Open Space was something I’d never heard of before – an opportunity for everyone to find a group who wanted to talk about what most interested them. Often we find it easiest in big groups to talk to people we recognise and already know, so this was a great chance for delegates to meet each other in a semi formal context. Tables were set up to facilitate discussion around broad themes, and delegates joined and moved around as the mood took them. I admit I spent most of this time talking to Sara Parker from Fair Connections and Mayor Walid Mushantaf from Lebanon about how BAFTS members can work with them, but it felt important to make these connections, and open space allows for free-flowing informal discussions like this.

The Conference ended with a call to action – asking delegates to sign a resolution to work with local green and environmental groups to forward the cause of trade justice and to support the right of producers and farmers to be represented in any political decision which affects them.

Many BAFTS members participated either in the conference or in the Sunday market in Bristol city centre and we’d love to hear your stories of this amazing.

Posted in Fair Trade

Hazel Dobson’s trip to Vietnam (Traidcraft “Meet the People” Tour)

Gateway World Shop’s Manager, and member of the BAFTS’ Board, Hazel Dobson, signed up for a Traidcraft “Meet the People” Tour to Vietnam last Autumn. She had previously visited Peru and Kathmandu on producer trips and thought her gallivanting days were over! She opted for Vietnam as it was a challenge for her to find out about a country which she had only ever associated with a horrific war in the 1960s, when she was a teenager. It was somewhere she would otherwise never had thought of visiting.

vietnam-map

The visit was almost three weeks in total, with internal flights, two long road journeys, and two by river. The tour covered almost the entire country in that space of time (the bright orange country on the map below). Vietnam is a long thin country with its Eastern coast bordering what the Vietnamese call the Indo-China Sea. It was a French colony from the middle of the 1800s and the people suffered a lot under the French. Vietnam is now a Communist Country -this was the reason for the Americans entering the war in the 1960s. Hazel was rarely aware of this fact on her visit, as visitors are very well catered for. Half the current population of 90 million is under the age of 25. Vietnam aspires to be a first-world country, and has good trade relations with Australia, but Russia is never mentioned. It seems to have a mixture of Hinduism, Buddhism, and veneration of dead relatives as its main religions.

Her tour embraced many stops, including Hanoi (North), the capital City, Hoi An (about halfway down the country) and Saigon (in the South). Vietnam was very green and agriculture appeared good, with an abundance of fish and prawns. Livestock at local markets was still “on the hoof” alongside a never-ending array of noodles!

In terms of suppliers, the visitors went to see “Craft Link“, one of Traidcraft‘s suppliers, with over 40 artisan groups and around 5,000 artisans in the North of Vietnam. They work with many minority groups, (about 12% of the population) and a few traditional tribes who have been left behind as the economy improved. Typical crafts include lacquer works involving crushed egg shells, from designs created from the artisans’ own imagination or memory, or carving mother-of-pearl shells for the inlay.  This long process is repeated many times, dipped in lacquer, dried then rubbed smooth.

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Some Vietnamese crafts which Hazel bought back with her -including lacquerware (red orange picture) and use of crushed egg shells (black and white image of couple)

Some entire villages make furniture from bamboo, and smoke the wood first to harden it. Craft Link supports this industry by giving training in marketing their products, which are for local markets, not for export.

There were also visits to a social enterprise in the city of Hue, in which Traidcraft has had some input. It provides work opportunities for disabled and disadvantaged young people. One particular project stood out in Hoi, a fair trade project called “Reaching Out” for severely disabled young adults, many of whom were deaf-mute, and a silent tea room. This project has concentrated on marketing themselves locally and with great success. They produce bedding, tableware, woven and metal goods and more.

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Serving in silence…the silent teahouse, where guests respond with notes to say what they want to eat and drink.

The tour included Mai Handicrafts, a Traidcraft supplier, and visiting some crocheting projects, in Central and Southern Vietnam. They saw workers packaging items and doing quality checks at Mai Handicrafts, as well as creating recycled paper products, although there was some doubt as to whether this project would be sustainable in the long-term.  All in all, there were some excellent social enterprises and fair trade businesses doing their best to keep traditional skills alive and work with some of the most vulnerable and marginalised members of their society.

Posted in Uncategorized

The 10 Principles of Fair Trade by Ramona Hirschi, Little Trove

THE HEARTBEAT OF FAIR TRADE

I recently gave a talk at a conference in Jersey about how current trade favours certain countries and leaves the poor marginalised. I showed how trade trends can be changed if people thought and acted differently towards all the resources this world has to offer.

I naturally offered the ten principles of fair trade as the business model that can bring about that change. The fair trade principles seek to bring the people in the fringes back in the fold. We hear about the fair trade principles but do we really understand them? Do we understand what work fair trade organisations do to follow these principles?

I would like to take you through a series I’m calling “The Heartbeat of Fair Trade”. I will try to show you what goes on behind each of the fair trade principles, starting with principle 1.

Principle 1 : Creating opportunities for disadvantaged groups in the developing world

Who are the UK’s favourite trading partners?

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Because of the freedom of movement of goods within the European Union, you will expect that a lot of intra-European trade is done. The statistics above show that we trade most with Germany, France, Netherlands etc. Since our biggest imports are road vehicles, it’s understandable that Germany and France rank highly. We love our BMWs, Audis, Mercs, Peugeots, Renaults, don’t we?

Outside the EU, our biggest trading partners are the USA and China, by a large margin. Just looking at the product labels on the goods in our high street store, it’s clear that businesses like trading with China.

Why?

There are several reasons why most of our imports come from the same countries. Let’s take China as an example. The costs are cheaper than manufacturing here in the UK. What about manufacturing costs in less developed countries like India or Indonesia? China is still cheaper because they have achieved such high volumes that economies of scale are achieved. Economies of scale mean as you scale up, you reach a point where it’s more efficient to produce and costs per unit are lower.

Another reason why businesses are happy trading along established routes is because the routes are familiar and secure. The supply is consistent. The supply chain is tried and tested. There are less nasty surprises along the way. There’s a system for designing goods for the UK, manufacturing standards are in place, quality control has been perfected and shipping runs like clockwork.

There is a strong business case for trading with our favourite partners. It makes complete sense. Until you think about the consequences on the rest of the world. Think about all the other businesses and producers in less developed countries. What about their skills? Are they not worthy of being included in global trade? Are villagers in Madagascar who make lovely bags not worthy of exporting their goods? Is a community in a leprosy colony to be left unemployed because their only skill is in weaving and they haven’t got a factory building?

Little Trove producers

If you put yourself in the shoes of the poor in under-developed or developing countries, you will see that they do not have a lot of choice. If they can make some products, they don’t tend to have a strong local economy in which to sell those goods for income. They need to participate in a global economy and tap into the riches of other countries. If they don’t, they will remain poor, living hand to mouth or dying of poverty.

SO WE HAVE A PROBLEM. THE PROBLEM IS THE POOR PRODUCERS NEED TO GET INTO GLOBAL TRADE BUT TRADE LEFT ON ITS OWN LIKES TO TRADE WITH MORE INDUSTRIALISED COUNTRIES.

One way forward to bridge the gap is for us to create opportunities for disadvantaged groups in the developing world. Fair trade principle 1.

Simply put, we should create trade opportunities with people who are otherwise overlooked. We should go to rural parts of the world and help disadvantaged producer groups access the world market. We should look to import goods from a wide variety of communities.

Little Trove producers choosing yarns to weave

This is what Little Trove and other fair trade companies are doing. I travel to remote parts of India and Indonesia to look for communities that need income. If they can make some products that have potential, I will help them with design ideas, make modifications to existing products and give them whatever necessary advice to get good quality products to import to the UK. The goods are then sent to our trade customers who sell to the public. When our trade customers re-order goods, more orders and monies are sent to the producers. The producers can increase production, increase the number of people working and ultimately improve their lives.

Sure, it’s tough to have to do “extra” work helping people develop products. Sure it takes longer to develop items. But it’s the only way that people on the fringes can be brought into the global economy. Trade left on its own will not naturally gravitate towards these rural groups. Businesses have to consciously decide to do it despite the tougher challenges and higher costs. I believe strongly we cannot settle for a low cost economy. We must recognise that our fellow human beings in many parts of the world make products that will enhance our lives. We must create economic opportunities for the disadvantaged.

Posted in Uncategorized

YOUNG ENTERPRISE REGIONAL WINNERS..FLEET OXFORD…A FAIR TRADE BUSINESS

How many 17 year olds can say they have run an award winning business?

A surprisingly large amount actually, thanks to Young Enterprise, a scheme created to teach teenagers about business through business. Teenagers across the country are given the opportunity to set up their own company with a product or service of choice which they must then market and sell to the public.

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The girls after winning the Regional Young Enterprise Award

There are easier things to do while sitting A-levels.

Fleet is one such company, formed in September 2014 by 13 Lower Sixth Students. We began by handmaking scented hearts from recycled fabric and selling them at local fairs. Ten months later and we’re representing the South East in the Young Enterprise Company of the Year Award with our ethically sourced Bangladeshi jewellery, sold and shipped around the world.

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Fleet Oxford earrings

From the beginning of the Young Enterprise process, we knew that we wanted to create a fair trade, ethically sourced product that would give back to the community. It was through a shareholder that we became aware of a woman’s co-operative in Bangladesh with fair trade principles where vulnerable women, often survivors of abuse and human trafficking, receive a salary above the minimum wage and their children are provided with an education. Having personally visited the co-operative, our shareholder could confirm that woman receive help for any social, health or psychological difficulties they may have, while also allowing them to become self-sufficient.

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Fleet Oxford jewellery

Plus the jewellery, ranging from intricate necklaces to colourful bracelets made from recycled Sari material, is beautiful. Even if we say so ourselves. What’s more, it’s supplied exclusively by us in the UK. More information about both the jewellery and the co-operative can be found on our website. Yes, we have yet to master the art of subtlety.

Although maybe that’s a good thing. After all, with endorsement from future “Dragon” on BBC’s Dragons Den, Sarah Willingham, and orders for jewellery from ceramics maker Emma Bridgewater, we couldn’t afford to be subtle.

But if we’re making it sound easy, it’s not. Things like this sadly don’t happen overnight, and Young Enterprise has been a massive learning curve for all of us at Fleet, and there have been moments that have gone somewhat…less well than other. Turning up the trade fair without any of our stock may have been one of them. The process has taught us lessons though that can’t be learnt in a classroom – such as the importance of making a checklist and how to grab opportunities and make the most of them.

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Screenshot of Fleet Oxford website

We have also learnt that business, and fair trade business in particular, can have a huge social benefit. We have grown up with stories of greed in business causing economic meltdown and recession so it has been a revelation as to how much good business can achieve if run on fair trade principals.

That’s what makes winning the Regional Finals and having the opportunity to compete at the Nationals so exciting. It’s much less to do with the awards, and far more about the recognition for what we’ve put into Fleet and what we’ve gained as individuals from the experience of being a part of Young Enterprise. The fact that we’re able to do so while helping bring sustainable benefits to our suppliers makes the experience even more worthwhile.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Fleet and our jewellery, you can find us at www.fleetoxford.com or on most social media at FleetOxford.

Posted in Fair Trade

Gilli Robbins retires from 10 years of managing Fair Trade at St. Michael’s, Oxford

Gilli Robbins: a life in fair trade

Shop Manager retires after 10 years of bringing fair trade to Oxford

Fairtrade at St Michaels, St Michael at the North Gate, Cornmarket Street, Oxford OX1 3EY

Gilli Robbins has been at the helm and the heart of Fairtrade at St Michaels since its earliest days – one of our original volunteers who quickly metamorphosed into our first manager.  Since then she has overseen the day-to-day running of the shop with super-efficiency whilst cherishing everyone and everything in it.  She has master-minded all the non-food buying, at any one time maintaining friendly relationships with up to 70 different suppliers and somehow memorising all the details about them and their products; she has kept the shop looking consistently fabulous with beautiful displays which cause new customers (and old) to pause on the threshold in wonder; she has imposed miraculous order on impossibly large quantities of stock squeezed into impossibly small storage spaces.  A hard act to follow!

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As Gilli steps down as shop manager, she reflects back over the events that inspired her to work in fair trade.  At the age of 24, Gilli moved to Nicaragua to work as a midwife, delivering the babies of the poorest women in the country. During this time, she met her husband, Marcus Robbins. Marcus’s work in Tropical Forestry Development took Gilli and their four children to countries all over the world – Honduras, Nepal, Belgium and Barbados, before they finally returned to the UK and settled in Oxford in 1997.

On her 60th Birthday in 2010, Gilli went to Paraguay. She was able to go to Santa Maria de Fe’ and visit the crafts women whose work is sold in Fairtrade at St Michaels.

Gilli saw how difficult people’s lives were and wanted to make a difference.  She joined Fairtrade at St Michaels as a volunteer in 2003, and then became the shop manager in 2005.

Gilli Robbins role as shop manager at Fairtrade at St Michaels extended to working with the fair trade producers.  One of Gilli’s proudest moment involved meeting Maryam Bibi, CEO of Kwendo Kor, an organisation working to empower Pakistani women living under the rule of the Taliban.

‘Maryam presented me with beautifully woven baskets that were decorated with shiny bits of  plastic and buttons. I explained to her that our customers would love the basket without the embellishment, and suggested other changes that could be used to improve their designs to appeal  to western taste. I also introduced her to other places who would sell these goods.’

Maryam took on Gilli’s advice on product design. Kwendo Kor continues to be one of Fairtrade at St Michaels’ most-loved, and best-selling ranges of homeware.  Gilli felt humbled that her feedback had had a significant effect on the lives of Pakistani women.  Gilli has played a crucial role in ensuring that fair trade producers create products that appeal to western consumers.

The future of Fair Trade? In Gilli’s mind there is still a lot to be done!  But with a total shop turnover of over £1.8 million in sales, she feels proud that Fairtrade at St Michaels has had a significant impact on the lives of fair trade producers. Pushing forwards with fresh blood, Fairtrade at St Michaels is full of new ideas, energy and determination. ‘We are amazing and we can do things to change the world’

Posted in Fair Trade

Thoughts on “The True Cost” Movie by our Marketing and Membership Coordinator

Andrew Morgan’s docufilm “The True Cost” was released worldwide on Friday 29th May. It shed harsh light on the garment industry, the pitfalls of excessive consumer capitalism and the cons of relentlessly pursuing profit whilst ignoring the hidden costs to humanity and our environment. It moved me to tears to see the farcical void between thoughtless throwaway Western consumption and the horrendous price paid by those at the production end of the chain. It made me ashamed to be part of such an economic system.

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Final Embrace Rana Plaza April 2013

Fast fashion has moved forward with such speed that the old “Spring/ Summer” and “Autumn/ Winter” seasons are long gone. Nowadays it is one new season a week. Production costs have soared, but big corporations ensure that consumer prices are kept low.  They have the power to do this, as they can go to another factory in the same country  or, worse still, to another country, if their demands aren’t met – and poor countries such as Bangladesh are desperate to survive economically. What alternatives do they have? This cost-squeeze inevitably means corners are cut, and can lead to such disasters as Rana Plaza, where workers were forced back to work by management even after cracks in the building were pointed out.

Apparently, the year of the Rana Plaza disaster (2013) was fashion’s most profitable year. It was also the year in which three of the four worst fashion disasters occurred. Bangladesh is at the bottom of the chain, with no effective unions and a system that doesn’t protect its workers. The justification for the lack of change is that the country needs the economic development. The excuses are that people choose to work in the garment industry. The reality is that there are no other alternatives, or they are even worse..and Bangladesh has some of the lowest-paid garment workers, earning less than $3 dollars a day. The rules in the factories are tough, and there are reports of workers being beaten for not keeping up with demand, or asking for better conditions and pay. Thankfully, as Safia Minney – Co-Director and Founder of People Tree (an ethical Fair trade fashion company)- sees it, Fair Trade offers a “citizens’ response to correcting a largely dysfunctional trading system”.

Sadly, the problem is much more wide-reaching. The film delves into pesticide use, genetically modified crops, spot spraying (an organic cotton farm in Texas is also looked at) and the consequences of cotton being re-engineered to keep up with the demands of fashion. Land is farmed too intensely, and our environment pays the price. The type of GM cotton offered to developing countries provides big corporations with a way to keep ownership of the cotton seed. It leads to a monopoly, farmer debt, the seed doesn’t control pests as it should, more pesticides are used, the soil becomes contaminated, and as farmers spiral further down into debt, companies like Monsanto reclaim their land. Symptoms of toxicity can be mental retardation, cancer, birth defects, jaundice, and with no money for medication, the farmers wait for family members and relatives to die. A tragic fact is that many farmers are found to have committed suicide in the fields, by drinking the pesticides. It is often the same corporations who make the fertilisers, create the genetically modified cotton seed, and produce the medicines which they cannot afford. Big businesses win, win, win whilst people and planet lose, lose, lose. 

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Example of skin damage caused by spraying crop pesticides

Consumers are fed the enchanting story that acquiring more material goods means more happiness, when in fact too great a stress on material values can lead to an increase in psychological problems. We are sold the line that consumption solves our problems, makes us beautiful, loveable, and loved, and that increased consumption solves this even better. However, a throwaway society also causes problems with landfill increase and dumping the excess on developing countries. Again, Safia Minney, Co-Founder and Director of People Tree, believes the customer is in charge, and needs to be a catalyst for change by refusing to buy cheap fashion. Yet, whilst consumers can connect with eg the chemicals in a non-organic apple, they do not link in to the many negatives of GM, non-organic cotton, and need to buy into the wider world benefits of pesticide-free cotton clothes. It would seem that, after the oil industry, fashion is the second most polluting in the world.

One of the saddest moments of the film comes quite near the end when a young Bangladeshi garment worker, interviewed at various points throughout the film, breaks down in tears at having to leave her daughter in her home village, because her family can better look after her there. She feels she had failed as a mother, yet is trying to break the cycle of seeing her daughter end up as she has. She wants a future, education, prospects and choices for her little girl.  Then people will see she has tried to be a good mother after all. She is angry at having to produce garments made “with their blood” (referring to Rana Plaza, and wanting better conditions, but having been pushed back by management). Bloody violent scenes are also shown in Cambodia, as garments workers are killed and beaten for demanding better wages. All they want is an increased minimum wage.

Why do conditions not change? Because the governments in many developing countries are desperate for their economy to thrive. They hold down wages and ignore labour laws to stop the business leeching out elsewhere. In doing so, they feed the greed of the big corporations, and all other considerations go out of the window. Many voluntary Codes of Conduct do not seem worth the paper they are written on, and businesses are unwilling to submit to mandatory codes, as the law goes against the principles of free trade. The answer lies in holding up for scrutiny, and turning away from, the consumer capitalist system, which feeds upon limitless growth otherwise it cannot sustain itself. If not for people’s, but also for our planet’s sake, we need a huge systemic change to our economic and environmental structures where the consumer refuses to buy into the consumer-economy tank.

Posted in Uncategorized
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