Creating demand for an ap-peel-ing shift in global trade economies

April 22, 2015

Today as we mark the 45th Earth Day, we are reminded of the power of all small ‘acts of green’, from local to global contributions that we as global citizens can make to broaden, diversify and activate the environmental movement. Our latest Global Health Writes article by Anneliese Arno takes a similar approach, calling for combined economic growth and sustainability in order to promote global trade justice.

GLOBAL HEALTH WRITES
Citizen Journalist: Anneliese Arno

fair_trade

Comhlámh’s Trade Justice Group and Fairtrade Ireland hosted a discussion titled “Who’s Got the Power?” at the Culture Box in temple bar, 24 February. The event was held in celebration of Fairtrade Fortnight 2015.

The evening began with prepared comments from the two featured guests, both representing the profession of farming and the communities who will benefit from fairer trade practices.

First up was Stephen Best, a banana farmer and Chairman of the Windward Islands Farmers Association (WINFA), an NGO and registered producer organisation representing the protection and promotion of Caribbean fair-trade farmers and their communities. He spoke on his personal experiences as a farmer and to the dignity afforded workers by fair trade rules. Mr. Best left an impression of the farmer as a business person, and an attempt to shift the current power balance to a more equitable one.

The second guest speaker, Chief Adam Tampuri, Chairman of Gbankuliso Cashew Farmers Association (Ghana), gave an impassioned talk on historical exploitations and our need to rectify them and to focus on people rather than profits. He also touched upon the larger potential of Fair Trade to enact positive change, in particular in conflict-prone settings. Mr. Tampuri commented that a cashew, for instance, “does not care if you are Muslim or Christian”, but a great deal about its environmental conditions: “it just wants to grow”.

These two speakers provided a tangible and immediate perspective for the audience. They were followed by comments from two Irish representatives.

First, Conall O’Caoimh from Value Added in Africa spoke in more economically-centred terms, regarding economies of scale and the raw materials trade. He presented several products and gave the hard numbers involved in the effect of product design on revenue. For example, workers in Kenya receive 9-fold more money from tea packaged prior to export, rather than post-export packaged tea marked up by European sellers. Peter Gaynor from Fairtrade Ireland wrapped up the opening comments by sharing actions that the group has taken thus far. He elaborated on some of the challenges the group has faced, and future activities they hope to undertake.

After which, the floor then opened up for audience questions and discussion–which were not lacking with the standing-room-only turnout. It was apparent, however, that the real challenge came not in convincing attendees of the merits of Fair Trade, but rather going out and spreading the word beyond those who are already involved.

The evening concluded with rousing calls to action. An audience member suggested a word-of-mouth approach: each attendee asks two of their friends to write to a retailer such as Dunnes or SuperValu to request fair-trade bananas, and these two in turn ask two more. Buy essays here.

A common theme throughout the event was taking a pragmatic and tangible approach. None of the speakers appeared to labour under the delusion that this issue will be easily nor quickly fixed. Indeed, the evening left an impression of a slow march towards progress, while still hoping for a Malcolm Gladwell-esque ‘tipping point’ to come sooner rather than later.

For now, the workable piece taken on by the Trade Justice group is bananas! Literally. Their 2015 campaign challenges grocers to publicise the percentage of their bananas which are fair-trade certified. Sadly, but not surprisingly, many chains have refused to make these numbers public, making it easy for the cynics among us to expect the worst. Most shamefully, Mr. Gaynor pointed out that UK markets average 35% fair trade bananas, compared to a paltry 8% of Irish markets. This could be an excellent opportunity for some productive and neighbourly competition!
Finally, Mr. Best presented an excellent closing thought and catchphrase.

 A banana is not a banana if it is not fair trade.

If you’re feeling inspired and want to get involved in trade justice, send a digital postcard to your food retailer here. You can also see how to make your school, college, or even your town fair trade!

 

Anneliese Arno is a citizen journalist keen on exploring the influences of the Global Political Economy and how we can make fair and equitable trade a reality.  She joins us as a contributor and citizen journalist with our Global Health Writes initiative.  You can also read her article on the practices and responsibilities of ethical partnerships and overseas placements.   

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