As most of you know from my barrage of posts on social media, I recently attended the World Fair Trade Conference at Crowne Plaza, Delhi from 9-14th November 2017. It took me until now to actually sit down and write about it, because over the course of that one week, I was exposed to so many new things, met delegates from all over the world and was bombarded with information. I needed to sort out my thoughts before actually blogging about it in order to do justice to the experience.
A lot of you asked me how I landed up at a fair trade conference, when it has little to do with my areas of interest – food and travel. Well, opportunities like these don’t come along everyday and I was privileged to the only blogger invited by Escape To. Secondly, a lot of us, including me, are experts in our own field of work but there’s a mind-boggling amount of things we don’t know and may never know.
So I decided that even if my experiences and learning is just the tip of the iceberg in the field of Fair Trade, it’s better than knowing nothing at all.
Until I visited the Fair Trade Week organized by WFTO and FTFI, the terms ‘fair trade,’ ‘sustainable fashion,’ and ‘marginalized artisans’ were just words I read on labels. It was eye-opening to witness how many NGOs and organizations around the world work to uplift farmers, weavers and craftsmen, helping them to prevent being exploited by the middleman.
While a lot of these artisans live in poverty, practicing age-old crafts and keeping tradition alive, their wares are sold in luxury markets around the world. Yet, due to poverty, they’re forced to abandon their craft which slowly dies out. Fair trade helps them get fair wages for their labour, have a decent lifestyle and carry on their legacy by connecting them to fair trade consumers.
The experience was intense, with a good mix of fun, networking, workshops and talks. Delegates would assemble at the Crowne Plaza at 9 am everyday for a keynote address by renowned name in the Fair Trade industry, followed by workshops, lunch-break, workshops again and then dinner. There was a Fair Utsav at DLF Saket and Fair Fashion Show at NIFT Delhi, followed by an outdoor dinner at a restaurant called Junction. A day would typically start at 9 am and end at around 9 pm or later.
On Day 1, Rudy Dalvai, the very charismatic President of WFTO aptly said, “As we’re in the peak of global economic changes, farmers struggle to survive, shops close and new sales channels emerge. It is a responsibility to ensure that these changes are positive and don’t create new poverty, Fair trade needs to be discovered in small things and needs to be rediscovered every day.”
Panchaksharam, member of the the Fair Trade Forum India who co-organized the event gave participants glimpses of the WFTO conferences through the past 14 years in all parts of the world, also sharing fun anecdotes. This was followed by Mallikarjuna Iytha, President of Fair Trade Forum India thanking participants for choosing India as the venue for the event as it will build credibility among policy circles. He expressed that fair trade can eliminate poverty and each case strengthens his belief that inclusion is possible and is the means to sustainable development.
Tomasz Kozlowski, European Union Ambassador to India also delivered an enlightening speech, stressing that Fair Trade is high on the EU agenda and there is a need to make manufacturers aware that Fair Trade is not a burden but an opportunity. “There is a need for clear governance in favour of Fair Trade,” he said.
While all the keynote speakers were brilliant, Devinder Sharma and Vandana Shiva had the most impact on me, personally.
Devinder Sharma is a food trade policy analyst and was once a leading Indian Express journalist. He said that the problem with mainline economics was that it covers how damaging unfair trade is through fancy words. With over 3,30,000 farmer suicides in 20 years due to income insecurity, globalization has destroyed livelihoods. India boasts of 8% rise in growth but there aren’t enough jobs,” he says. “If a tree is standing, GDP doesn’t change. If the tree is cut down, money changes hands and GDP increases. Don’t believe growth is the path to development. Believe in sustainable development.” Devinder Sharma also stated, “Importing food is importing unemployment. China has reduced its grain prices for the first time in 10 years. Fair trade can bring change to those who never dreamt of it and these changes have to move towards ecological stabilization.”
Dr. Vandana Shiva, an activist for peace, sustainability and social justice had a message for small fair organizations fighting against giants – “We need to promote skilled entrepreneurship without migration.” Her words were backed by decades of experience and she shared snippets of the work she’s been a part of in various parts of the world. Vandana said that while coffee producers incomes dropped from 9 billion dollars to 5 billion, the profits on coffee jumped from 40% to 70%. Trade by ‘MNC dinosaurs’ is designed to transfer wealth not where it is produced, but where it is stolen, she said. She also educated the crowd about National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme and said that Fairness should take into account ecological sustainability, what is happening to the soil and climate.”
Other prominent keynote speakers included Nicolette Naumann, VP of Ambiente and Tendence at Messe Frankfurt and Geoff White, CEO of Trade Aid Importers Ltd, New Zealand and Vice President of WFTO, who said ” Fair Trade doesn’t connect with consumers well enough. We can’t be a passive retailers anymore. We need to be an active organisation.” True words, I realized, when I thought about how many fair trade organizations I was even aware of. Negligible!
Workshops filled the rest of the day, again, held by notable dignitaries to educate and share experience in various countries and organizations. Gender policy, Go coop, Fair Trade Towns, Ethical design and trend forecasting, inclusion of refugees in fair trade, steps to attract new customers, using social media to reach new markets – these were one of many, many topics discussed. While I’d have loved to attend all of them (nerd alert!), there were 5 held at the same time in various conference rooms and I was darting from one room to the other to be a part of them all.
The breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets and coffee breaks provided ample time for networking, but still didn’t seem like enough! And of course, like every organization meeting, new members were elected to the board, changes in the constitution were made, and it felt pretty great to be a silent observer in the gathering, watching it all unfold. Over time, just like in a new college, faces became familiar and everyone started talking to each other much more freely.
The Fair Trade Week 2017 had activities outside the confines of the conference room, too, like I mentioned – the Fair Utsav at DLF Saket and Fair Trade Fashion Show at NIFT Delhi. But I’ll leave that for another blog post.
Catch you on the other side!