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    Fair trade talks - promoting fair trade

    Wednesday, 30 January 2019  |  Joanna

    Our school was a very traditional Catholic girls' school and girls with a reasonable level of English were expected to take English Speaking Board exams. I was extremely nervous, and had been off sick the previous week. I did not want to do this talk (about Duran Duran, since you ask), in front of my entire year group. I was a disaster and had a complete meltdown half way through. My words dried up, with only the fact that I was rooted to the spot stopping me from running out of the Library. I burst into tears and was rather awkwardly comforted by my English teacher. When I got my results the comments read; "A pass, but only just." I was 14 and it was clear that I was not suited to public speaking.

    Fast forward 32 years and last night I was billed as a "Guest Lecturer" for "Eco-Hour" an Environmental Society at York University. They had invited me to speak on the subject of Fair Trade and the Environment. As the room filled up with around 30 Masters students in their 20s my Imposter Syndrome grew. I know my stuff, but I knew they would be better versed on certain aspects of the talk I had prepared. However, as I talked them through the recycled paper cards made by survivors of the Rwandan genocide, the Wichi tribe's conversion from hunter-gatherers to sustainable agriculture, the carbon emissions saved by recycling aluminium and tin into ornaments, the environmental benefits of bamboo vs cotton socks and how the Fairtrade premium is used by farmers to promote sustainable income growth and reduce the environmental impact of their homes and farms, I relaxed. I had banished all the gremlins from my youth. By tackling my fear, being organised and doing my research I conquered my doubts and learned to enjoy the sensation of passing on my knowledge and expertise to people who will hopefully go away and spread the word even further.        

    In 2016 I was asked to give a talk to our local U3A. I had just opened a shop in Selby and it seemed like a good way to help promote the shop and the campaign for Selby to become a Fairtrade Town.

    As Chair of BAFTS I had been speaking to large groups of fellow fair trade retail and wholesale professionals for several years, but speaking to small groups of adults, many of whom have little prior understanding of fair trade, was new to me. Over the course of the next months and years I was invited to speak to dozens of Ladies' groups, Lunch societies, even the Freemasons. What had once been nerve-wracking became second nature, and I found new ways to make fair trade stories relevant to my audience. I learned to anticipate the questions they might ask, and gave more time to the stories I found they connected with most. The universal shock at my explanation of endemic child labour in the West African cocoa industry was instructive. Many people justify not worrying too much about goods made by children with the thought that they are taking an income home to their families, without which their families would be more impoverished. When I explained the true nature of child labour, they were truly shocked. Children are taken away from their families - sometimes sold, sometimes given willingly - and put to work for no wages, working hard all day every day and receiving only a minimum of food and shelter.  This happens all over the world, in Indian circuses, Nepalese carpet workshops, Bangladeshi garment factories and West African cocoa farms.

    Lots of schools ask Fairtrade campaigners to give assemblies, especially during Fairtrade Fortnight, and it's vital that children learn about the positive impact that fair trade can have. But you can't talk to children about slave labour, sex trafficking, genocide and child marriage. By speaking to groups of adults I realised the importance of telling real, human, stories, both positive and negative, to shock people out of a lifetime's complacency. It's not our fault we don't understand global trade. It's in the interest of global corporations that we don't understand how they exploit workers, drive down working conditions and subcontract to people offering the lowest price without asking how and why the price is so low.

    So it's up to us, as Fairtrade campaigners, to spread our message - that the global trading system is broken in lots of different ways, but there's a better way of doing business. And one of the best ways to kick against it is to choose fair trade, to reject the narrative that cheapest is always best, that cutting red tape is more important than protecting workers' rights, that the way the world works is set in stone. Because it isn't. Together, we can choose to be better. Let's do it.