Picture of Pascale Robinson, student volunteer

Fair trade campaign training report

Student volunteer Pascale Robinson reports on a fair trade campaigner training session she attended in February 2014, organised by the Scottish Fair Trade Forum.

Arriving at half ten to the fair trade training session in Edinburgh, run by the Scottish Fair Trade Forum, I believe all attendees were a little unsure of what to expect. The Out of the blue Drill Hall in Edinburgh is a brilliant space for creative and cultural community projects and enterprises. It therefore seems an interesting, if unusual, venue for training from such an established organisation. I have preconceived ideas of the Scottish Fair Trade Forum as a huge organisation, impenetrable and somewhat aloof to the average person. Within being in the meeting room for a few minutes, I learn that this is not the case.

The training for fair trade campaigners is open to anyone interested in fair trade and is run by Helen, the community engagement officer for the Scottish Fair Trade Forum. The Scottish Fair Trade Forum is an organisation that was founded in 2007 by campaigners in fair trade to further the concept and discussions around the topic, in addition to gaining the fair trade status for Scotland. Helena rightly highlighted that fair trade is increasingly less ‘fashionable’, perceived as ‘more mainstream’ in the face of other campaigning organisations. However throughout the day, many of us in the room realised that fair trade as a movement is still very much a radical movement.

To many consumers, it is still an alien idea. It is still not really seen as one of the best alternatives to unfair global trading systems. We began the day with a simple step-by-step introduction to the problems of global trade. The complexities of the issues were not avoided. For example, minerals and their importance within modern technologies are discussed. The difficulty of their traceability is also noted. The recent decision of traidcraft to launch a cleaning product range that uses palm oil brings up interesting and opposing points of view. Nestle, of course, came up. I personally needed a mini-tutorial in the percentage specifications of fair trade products. For example, did you know that a company’s overall purchasing for a composite (multi-ingredient) product needs to be only 4% fair trade in order to gain fair trade status, but in single products, it needs to be 100%? Though this may not seem like riveting stuff, the problems lie in these seemingly trivial details; when you begin working with huge corporations, such as Nestle, or Cadbury, these decisions have huge impacts on thousands of farmers.
The trainer was brilliantly encouraging; that there are lots of different views was constantly reiterated. Above all, it is driven home to myself that I need to constantly be aware of the things I buy, consume, and use, and where they come from. Additionally, environmental issues are vital to fair trade’s sustainability.

Therefore, one could say that ‘fair trade’, amongst the different organisations and as a movement, is increasingly realising that it is arriving at a crossroads. It needs to face up to the challenges of opposition, diversification, commercialisation and ultimately, going global. The idea that fair trade can either ‘commercialise’, or ‘stay pure’ is to oversimplify. I believe the conclusion for now should be that it is the discussion that is most important. It is the willingness to investigate and to learn more. We all need to be conscious of the fact that we all have a stake in the movement and have an obligation to make informed decisions as consumers. Purely by reading this, by buying a fair trade product, by being a human being, fair trade and concept of trade justice is relevant to you. Perhaps we all need to have a riotous discussion and argue. After all, it is the only way to arrive at a answer, Push the debate forward and change things. Though it’s not final and easy and package-able, discussion I believe is the only way forward for the moment.