Book Review: Traidcraft by Joe Osman
Friday, 28 August 2020 | Joanna
Review of Joe Osman's book Traidcraft - Inspiring a Fair Trade Revolution
I first met Joe Osman when I was the Chair of BAFTS - The UK Fair Trade Network. He and I were regular attendees at the UK Fair Trade Leaders' Forum meetings which brought together the country's biggest hitters in fair trade. The meetings were dominated by licensees of the Fairtrade mark and the Fairtrade Foundation was a key partner, sharing news, plans and research into the British public's attitude to and market for fair trade products. As a network member of WFTO, BAFTS were made welcome and it was a great opportunity for us to work with other committed fair trade brands. This willingness to collaborate is pivotal to fair trade and runs through Joe's book like letters through a stick of rock. I would go on to invite Joe to speak at the BAFTS Conference and he was our key contact when Traidcraft joined BAFTS as supplier members, which they remain to this day.
Traidcraft started in the late 1970s and has spent its entire existence in the North East of England - first in Newcastle and later in Gateshead. Where most organisations of its size might have moved to London, Traidcraft remains a North East institution. It helps that the rents are cheaper, but mainly it stays because at its core the purpose of Traidcraft, like all other fair trade brands, is to find out where and how to do the most good. Hundreds of people have been employed at Traidcraft over the years, in an area where good jobs are thin on the ground. The salary differential written into Traidcraft policy means that nobody is paid more than three times the lowest paid worker. In the week where it was announced that Jeff Bezos is worth $200bn it's tempting to imagine what would be the result if tech giants adopted this as a policy. But then Traidcraft was always all about doing business differently. Born as part of a global movement to promote alternative trade, it has always prioritised those people who are often overlooked in the conventional trade world of sales, marketing, share prices and commodities trading. It's easy to ignore the people who grow and make the products we buy. I've been having weekly conversations with cocoa farmers in Cote d'Ivoire who are desperate for three things: Democracy, Transparency and Participation. They want control over their futures and Fairtrade gives them that.
Joe talks in this book about his own travels to cocoa growing areas in Cote d'Ivoire - where he was designated a tribal chief and acquired not one but two goats - and over 20 other countries in the global south. Later chapters give detailed histories of the different issues in bringing Fairtrade to widely different sectors like coffee, tea, sugar and wine as well as cocoa. At every stage it was vital to work with lots of other organisations - networks like WFTO, Fairtrade International, supermarkets like the Co-op and M&S, dedicated fair trade brands like Tropical Wholefoods, Cafe Direct and Divine Chocolate. Conventional trade would have dismissed the idea of working with business rivals, but alternative trade, which grew into fair trade, emphasises collaboration, comradeship and partnership. These are the values which first attracted me to fair trade and which have resulted in fair trade organisations being more resilient through the current crisis and the previous one following the banking crash of 2008. Joe takes the reader on a rollercoaster ride through some of the financial ups and downs of Traidcraft's history, and when he started writing it must have been far from clear that Traidcraft would survive into 2020. In fact its death knell was prematurely sounded in autumn 2018 but it has weathered that particular storm and is now a much different beast compared to five years ago. Joe doesn't shy away from the bad news and it's clear that the path has often been winding, with huge numbers of unsuccessful products littering the road to where we are now.
But Traidcraft has a huge place in people's hearts and it has proven to be adaptable to changing fortunes - sometimes through sheer force of will. The Fairtrade mark celebrated its 25th birthday last year - I organised a human mosaic in Hull to mark the event - and at the same time Traidcraft was celebrating 40 years from its official foundation in 1979. From a few jute plant pot holders sold from a catalogue to a multi billion pound industry, fair trade is still growing and evolving. But my work this summer to campaign on behalf of Fairtrade cocoa farmers who supply Nestle shows that we cannot afford to be complacent. People like Joe Osman have helped get us to where we are today, but while cocoa farmers still earn only 74p a day and have to fight against losing the democratic controls they have been able to rely on for a decade, the fight goes on. And Traidcraft remains a firm part of our fair trade landscape, which is why All's Fair continue to stock their products.
Joe Osman's book is available from all good bookshops and as an eBook. We humbly request that you don't add to Jeff Bezos's pile of cash and avoid buying it from Amazon.