Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fairtrade Supporters Conference

It would take more space than there is here to describe all that happened yesterday, but I'll do my best to pick out the highlights.
On a very personal note, before even arriving at the conference, there was one of the best breakfasts I've had in a long time with lots of fresh fruit and decent coffee served by cheerful staff.
Arrival at the conference itself meant being greeted by friendly welcoming members of the Fairtrade Foundation team and being shown exactly where everything was and what to do.
The first session was a plenary discussion chaired by George Alagiah of the BBC, former patron of the foundation, between Douglas Alexander MP, Secretary of State for International development and Harriet Lamb, Executive Director, Fairtrade Foundation.
The theme of the day was Fairtrade in relation to sustainability and climate change.
George Alagiah pointed out in his introduction that aid is a relatively modern invention but trade is as old as mankind, obvious but often forgotten.
Douglas Alexander described being brought up in a family committed to Fairtrade, drinking Campaign coffee because it was the right thing, not because it tasted good, and now as a government minister being completely committed to promoting Fairtrade as part of the solution to dangerous climate change. He announced the government grant of £12m to the foundation as a sign of the commitment the DfID has to Fairtrade as part of the solution to poverty. His personal commitment was obvious and it was pleasing to see someone so obviously in the right job in government. I have never applauded a Government minister so enthusiastically.
Harriet Lamb talked of the time it takes to develop a product/group to Fairtrade certification. E.g. Zaytoun Olive oil took over 5 years. This kind of commitment needs a lot of investment. Much of the investment comes from the fees paid by producers for certification so the Fairtrade movement is self sustaining but larger investment needs large donors. She welcomed the announcement by the government of £12m grant to the Fairtrade Foundation which will allow much more of the development work to be done working with the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation.

In the course of the discussion examples of rules made in the developed world which make trade difficult and unfair for developing countries were given. The one that hit me hardest and which I wished I’d known about a few days earlier when at the European Parliament was that all bananas entering the EU have to be washed! Why??? Health and Safety apparently! As a result water that should be used for drinking is being used to wash the bananas.

After that came the presentation of awards. Groups from all over the country were recognised for their achievements in Fairtrade Fortnight. Interestingly, both the winner and the runner up in the Most Imaginative campaign category were in the North of England - Scarborough and Tees Valley. Our trip round the Tees Valley with a giant inflated banana had really impressed the judges. Shared Interest had contributed money to give cash prizes this year so we have a base on which to build next year's campaign.
The photo was taken by Moe Kafer.
Workshops on different subjects followed and I was pleased to find out that a group of producers in the DRC are working towards achieving Fairtrade certification for their coffee despite the dangerours political situation in that country.
During the afternoon plenary session I was made aware of something I didn't know was happening in this country (where have I been for the last few weeks?). ASDA has initiated a banana price war, cutting their price 6 times in 6 weeks. At 39p a kilo for loose bananas there's no way it's sustainable and someone is suffering. In the short term it's not the consumer who's saving money nor the shareholder who's getting profits from the increased footfall in the stores. The first people who suffer are the producers who are paid less and less. Thank God for Fairtrade which guarantees a fair price to the grower. But as Renwick Rose of the Windward Islands Farmers pointed out, even Fairtrade growers will suffer because the supermarkets that aren't committed to Fairtrade will just stop buying their produce. He had a revolutionary solution which won't be adopted - pay some of the increased profits back to the farmers who grow the bananas!
There was much more debate about sustainability and climate change but I'll close with the comment from Sophi Tranchell of Divine Chocolate: "It’s down to you. Everything you do and buy makes the world the way it is.” Do we want a world run entirely for the benefit of the few, destroying the lives of the many or will we make the necessary changes?
A Thank you presentation to George Alagiah for his support during 7 years as patron rounded off the plenary session, before we went off to taste wine and chocolate and ask all the burning questions that hadn't been answered in the day. A completely spontaneous standing ovation for George expressed everyone's heartfelt gratitude for all he's done. Tammy Stewart-Jones of Thanet Fairtrade group made the presentation on behalf of all campaigners, old and new.

1 comment:

YFFT said...

Congratulations on the award - a group of us from Youth for Fair Trade were there to see it.

Would welcome you encouraging 18-30s from your local area to come to our International Youth for Fair Trade Conference here in Coventry 30Oct-1Nov http://tr.im/y4ft2009 now free with promo code FAIRTRADE