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    Come On In To Fairtrade Fortnight

    Monday, 26 February 2018  |  Joanna

    Fairtrade Fortnight is the annual celebration of all things fair trade, where we take the opportunity to explain how your buying decisions have a huge impact on producers and farmers in the developing world.

    On Friday I was invited to speak at the University of York to a group of Masters students on the Chevening programme, which offers scholarships to international students to complete their Masters in the UK. Students come from all over the world, including from some of the countries where our fair trade goods are produced, and study at universities across the UK. 

    The theme of my talk was Chocolate, since York is the city built on chocolate. As a member of York Fair Trade Forum I wanted to take the opportunity to explore the world of fair trade chocolate and how it fits into the history of York's chocolate factories.

    The story of chocolate in York starts with Mary Tuke, a widow and a Quaker who decided in 1725 to open a shop selling groceries, including the slabs of chocolate which were then used to make a drink - the solid chocolate bars we know now were still many decades away.

    The medieval guild, Merchant Adventurers still the controlled commerce in the city of York. Unless you were a member of the guild you were not allowed to trade in the city. You were not allowed to become a member if you were a woman, unless you were a widow of a guild member. Equally you were not allowed to join the guild if you did not belong to the established church. Mary was subject to an eight year long programme of intimidation which resulted in her shop being closed down and re-opened many times until the guild finally relented. Her nephew eventually took over the business and it stayed in the family until it was sold to Rowntrees in 1862. 

    Rowntrees is an extremely well known name in chocolate manufacturing. Also Quakers, the Rowntree family opened a factory on Haxby road in York which was a pioneer of good working conditions, pensions, paid holidays and clean, purpose-built homes for workers. The original factory still serves as an important site of chocolate R&D for global behemoth Nestle, which bought Rowntrees in 1988.

    The Rowntree name still lives on in the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which campaigns for social justice and conducts research on living conditions in contemporary British towns and cities. 

    While York has been a Fairtrade City since 2004, through the actions of its chocolate pioneers we can see that one of York's biggest industries has been using the principles of fair trade - gender equality, non discrimination and good working conditions - since 1725.

    Tomorrow I'll talk more about Fairtrade chocolate and how workers in Ghana are benefiting from Fairtrade premiums.