Mitch Teberg, MA Associate Member

World Fair Trade Organization: The Importance of National Fair Trade Networks in the Global South
1 August 2011

On our Journey for Fair Trade, Chou and I discovered what could be described as the key to making Fair Trade sustainable well into the future. Along with the importance of localizing Fair Trade, we found that “developing countries” with strong national Fair Trade networks were further along in many ways than countries with weak or non-existent networks. By stating they were “further along” I mean that Fair Trade Organizations (FTOs) and advocates worked towards collective goals such as raising awareness of Fair Trade in their communities, on campuses, and in government; successfully collaborated in international events such as World Fair Trade Day; regularly met to discuss issues addressing Fair Trade and producers to find solutions and share experiences; and provided various forms of ongoing support for the many producer groups engaged in Fair Trade. Most importantly, Fair Trade was localized in communities and there was a franchise of Fair Trade stores from which many activities were coordinated (Read Journey for Fair Trade: Franchising Fair Trade). Frankly speaking, this is the way it should be in “developing nations” of the global south. Fair Trade cannot be a northern concept for northern markets – it has to be localized in the southern markets if Fair Trade is to be sustainable, and to do that requires a concerted and unified effort at the national level. With that said, some countries we visited don’t have national networks, or in other cases if there was one it wasn’t operating to expand Fair Trade nationally. When there is no national

Mitch Teberg, MA Associate Member network there is no unified goal for localizing Fair Trade; no strategy for raising awareness amongst local consumers and expanding local markets; no social movements for trade justice or attempts to address social issues in local communities through Fair Trade initiatives; and there is little-to-no support for our common agenda – to alleviate poverty, provide opportunity to the disadvantaged communities and to bring social change to a nation. In an atmosphere such as this, there is room for failure (Read: Journey for Fair Trade: The Sound of Silence). We also found a national network which was more concerned about gate-keeping rather than seeing opportunities for expansion. In this case, there had not been a single new FTO to join the network in several years and there was no tangible Fair Trade Movement anywhere, not in the cities, not on campuses, and not amongst producers. This is unthinkable if Fair Trade is to become localized in the south! As we all know, dependence on export trade to the global north alone is not a wise direction, particularly following the global recession of 2007-08. Chou and I met with the leadership of a national movement to discuss their current approach and reason for rejecting so many applicants. In that discussion, one issue became very clear that concerns all Fair Traders: some businesses or exporters were seeking membership in the national movement simply for the certification. It wasn’t that these organizations were interested in the principles, but that those whom they exported to were increasingly requesting that they become a Fair Trade Organization. However, as we know Fair Trade certification or membership does not mean attending a simple training course and passing a quick, painless audit to receive a big brother’s smile of approval like the ISO certifications where businesses basically certify businesses with a wink and a grin. This is equivalent to fourth-graders policing fourth-graders on the playground – it doesn’t happen, but this framework of certification system is where many conventional businesses, importers, and exporters are coming from. So to a degree, guarding a Fair Trade network at the national level is sensible, but taken too far it becomes a Members Only Club, and that is not Fair Trade. The problem with the gate-keeping approach was it prevented the expansion of Fair Trade. Rather than see these applications as opportunities to introduce Fair Trade Principles, they viewed these applications as predatory and only interested in diluting the essence of Fair Trade. This cannot be how we perceive newcomers. Frankly, in this case there needs to be a re-evaluation of perceptions. First, set up a comprehensive application process and let’s welcome applications to national movements. Start by establishing a step-by-step process for certification which requires organizational and operational changes over a reasonable period of time. For example, introduce a probationary period before full certification is granted. This period could allow time for consideration and adaptation of the principles into business practices; consider this a time for mentoring and coaching applicants.

Mitch Teberg, MA Associate Member

Most importantly start with the easiest things to adapt, like management procedures that are transparent to producers and integrating Fair Trade Principles into contracts with suppliers. These do not cost significant amounts of time of funds to implement. Take on the harder transitions in time, such as issues that run against current socio-cultural trends. These can be integrated step-by-step. It isn’t that we ignore those issues; it is just that once the process is started and the easier things integrated, we have their vested interest in continuing change. Think of this as Change Management. For another alternative approach where an FTO reaches out to potential producer groups read: Journey for Fair Trade: To Make Coffee Sustainable. This is how we expand nation membership, develop local Fair Trade markets and raise awareness of Fair Trade in “developing nations” of the global south. Utilizing a gate-keeping approach is a quick way to alienate those whom Fair Trade is intended to help. Let’s open up Fair Trade and make it attainable. It begins with local initiatives and grows from there. If starting a national network seems a daunting task, start from where you stand. Make Trade Fair in your community (Read: Journey for Fair Trade: The Start of a Fair Trade Movement). Localize Fair Trade. Mitch Teberg, MA © 2011 International Consultant Sustainable Development / Fair Trade Researcher / Trainer / Consultant www.journeyforfairtrade.blogspot.com Posted on: http://www.wfto.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1516&Itemid=305#.TjitpvR VNoI.blogger)