Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Back in the Fair Trade Blogosphere

It has been almost a month since my last posting, and I am itching to get back to a Fair Trade focus. Not that I haven’t been trying to live a Fair Trade life, you understand, but I took a bit of leave to help an elderly relative. That’s meant, actually, a lot of shopping (check out the photo of me and cousin Dollie in front of a flat-screened t.v. no less) but not a lot of time to report out.

I’ve also been trying to work a little behind the scenes and at my day job on a couple of efforts to build consumer commitment to Fair Trade. I am very excited by the success of World Fair Trade Day—we beat those nice Finnish people to regain the record for largest Fair Trade break in the world—and by activity afoot to convene another Fair Trade Futures conference in 2010. But I’ve also been, to be honest, distracted by inter-movement tensions that seem to crop up a lot among Fair Traders.

I’ve written on this blog and in my book about the distinctions between fully committed companies and those with specific product lines. With new certifications and product claims coming on the scene, there are more and more debates about which principles put farmers and artisans first, which standards are the most rigorous, and which associations and certifications can best ensure integrity in the value chain. I was hoping that the May World Fair Trade Organization meetings in Nepal would help set some strong, producer-led directions, but apparently there is disagreement within that group of the best way forward regarding product and company labeling. Looking to my own back yard, there have been two sets of "movement" collaboration conversations trying to set objectives, strategies and “authority” for new consumer campaigns. There has been a lot of rehashing of old issues, going in circles about new ones, and sapping of energy of talented, committed people. Oh, and have I mentioned recent mixed media coverage of whether or not Fair Trade is really fair?

Still, I’m not discouraged because, in addition to it being a beautiful day here in Washington, D.C., I believe in the core values that Fair Trade espouses. Recently I was reading a Harvard Business Review posting about the lost of trust in the business world that said that “trust, reliability and relationships” are the new competitive advantages. Hah! Those values are the ones that have driven Fair Trade for 60 years!

Despite all our difficulties, our politics, our opportunism, the movement has, across the decades, uplifted core values which rally the best motivations of people, which result in successful business practices from “crop to cup” as they say, and which create sustainable economic systems that serve as model for how households and multinationals can run their finances.

I’m back in the blogosphere to say Fair Trade and its leaders ain’t perfect. It won’t fix every problem of poverty and shouldn't pretend to. But if in these days of economic meltdowns and increasing inequality, of climate calamities and changing power structures, you want a framework built on “dialogue, transparency and respect” Fair Trade has something for you. We need your help to stay on course and chart new directions. I hope this blog can help.

Happy summer!

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