Fair Trade actors driving modern public policies
For the president of the W.F.T.O. (World Fair Trade Organization) network, fair trade is proof of the relevance of the solidarity and ethical economy values for the most vulnerable.
What key progress has been made by fair trade in the face of multiple crises around the world?
Roopa Mehta: I remember our slogan, which was launched in the 1970s – Fair Trade, not Aid and I will use that to evaluate our impact. One of the most important areas of progress is that our attention has shifted to those marginalised in society – vulnerable peasants, small-scale craftworkers, poor communities, etc. Our movement has worked for their economic security and social justice. These disadvantaged groups, or those discriminated against, are at the heart of our work. And this has continued over the long-term: fair trade has created an environment that promotes stability. These actors manage to provide for themselves over the long term in a very tough global economy. Fair trade is also a lever which empowers individuals in the long term.
The W.F.T.O is now present in seventy-six countries. Have the activities of its members had an impact on public policies?
We have brought about gradual changes. We have seen local, but visible, success in the English cities that have become fair trade zones. This support has an influence on public spaces. Our advocacy work has led to small changes.
However, I would not go as far as to say that we have obtained substantial changes in public policies at a global level. I would define fair trade’s capacity to influence in a different way. It is primarily a matter of people becoming aware that they have the power to change their situation. We have created a growing community of committed and often young people, who use social media to widely share our practices. Times change, collective awareness is growing.
To what extent have the fair-trade organisations managed to change the dominant economic system?
Over the last two years, during testing times for the economy and society, the fair-trade movement has demonstrated its solidarity and its resilience. We have resisted because community involvement is extremely strong. There have been very few bankruptcies, not least because, very often, these actors have proved their ability to sacrifice profits to survive. This model, based on transparency, short circuits and quality products, provides a safety net. And even more so with the Covid-19 pandemic, as fair trade has broadened its influence by taking on the health issue. Nobody knows how long this crisis will last. So, because it’s good for people to leave their homes, we have converted production units into healthy working environments for people. We have also considered the opportunities opened up by working from home. At a local level, of course. Because the old, globalised model of profit-driven, competitive companies that relocate jobs is not sustainable. They have cancelled orders, contracts, partnerships. This is not the case for fair trade. They are ‘our’ groups – consumers, citizens, advocacy activists, etc. – who will grow the system outside, by acting as modern drivers of public policies where the governments show little willingness to confront going back to business as usual. This is the economic and social change that is coming.