Held on the 20th November 2004 the Fair Trade Futures Conference took place at the Said Business School.
‘Fair Trade Futures: Growth or Consolidation?’
Organised by the OXFORD FAIR TRADE COALITION AND THE SKOLL CENTRE FOR SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP
The issues to be covered in the seminar include:
- A guide to fairtrade, the growth of the mark and links to Trade Justice Fairtrade Case Studies
- How to Run a Fairtrade Campaign
- An in-depth look at fairtrade and trade justice
- Running a fairtrade campaign
- Good answers to bad excuses
- Communicating fairtrade issues within a university / college
- Working with suppliers to achieve Fairtrade status.
The premise for this major one-day event, entitled “Fair Trade Futures: Growth or Consolidation?” was that Fair Trade now finds itself at a tipping point; as the fastest growing consumer movement in the world, it is uniquely placed to offer direct help to disempowered producers on a significant scale; yet a range of financial limitations, governance issues and structural problems could constrain its growth.
The Conference, which was organised by the Oxford Fair Trade Coalition and the Saïd Business School ‘s Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, was attended by over 200 delegates, including producers from the South, Fair Trade buyers and retailers, corporate managers, policy makers, economists, academics, activists, and students. High-profile speakers included Penny Newman, CEO of Cafédirect, Paul Chandler, Chief Executive of Traidcraft, and Safia Minney, founder of the successful fair trade fashion label People Tree. Meanwhile the voices of local producers were represented by delegates such as Renwick Rose of the Windward Islands Farmers’ Association and Jimmy Navarro of Café Progresso in Honduras . NGOs represented included Oxfam, Christian Aid and Tear Fund.
The discussions that took place during the day addressed the major challenges now facing the Fair Trade industry, including: How can Fair Trade scale up to meet demand globally? What mechanisms are there to protect the integrity of Fair Trade? What role do multinational corporations have to play? How should be the governance of Fair Trade develop? Can Fair Trade change the terms of international trade or will it remain simply as an ‘ethical’ alternative? Which futures for Fair Trade will generate the most impact for producers? Should the strategy be the continued quest for fast growth or a policy of consolidation and reflection? And what other futures can be imagined for Fair Trade?
Progress was noted in a number of areas: no longer confined to alternative trading outlets such as charity shops, Fair Trade products now sit on the shelves of many major supermarkets and are beginning to build important market share in particular commodities, most noticeably coffee; furthermore, Fair Trade is growing beyond its first markets in Europe to develop a presence in Japan, Canada, Australia, and the US. Penny Newman of Cafédirect pointed out that the company’s successful share issue in 2004 would have inconceivable in the 1980s; while Safia Minney founder of People Tree has proved that it is possible for Fair Trade products to compete in the cut-throat fashion industry.
However, delegates were not complacent. Peter Freeman of Shared Interest and Whitni Thomas of the New Economics Foundation talked about an important practical constraint on the growth of Fair Trade; the lack of fair finance for enterprises both in the North and the South. Delegates discussed the need for reliable certification of products now that commercial companies, whose motivation is not social development, have entered the Fair Trade arena. A debate was held on what constitutes Fair Trade in the context of larger scale plantation agriculture, and factory production in urban areas; and some delegates suggested that the views of Southern producers needed to be sought and heard more than they are at present.
The Co-op supermarket chain has demonstrated its commitment to Fair Trade by developing over 60 own brands and educating consumers; but delegates were concerned that some other supermarkets may be using a token range of Fair Trade products as ‘window-dressing’ to draw attention away from the fact that they are generally using their buying power to drive down prices and impose unfair conditions on suppliers. Commercial companies may be prepared to meet minimum standards ‘to do no harm’, they suggested, but would any multinational really commit to Fair Trade?
Perhaps the hardest question facing delegates was whether Fair Trade would remain an idealistic model, or whether it could help to change the values and practices of the global trading system in a far more profound way. Could Fair Trade really hope to alter the structures and rules of international trade to create a more even playing field? Fair Trade pioneer Michael Barratt Brown of TWIN reflected; “Influencing governments is probably the most important thing we can do.”