12 November, 2014

Influencing positive EU change over breakfast

Campaigns team
by Rachael Sweet, Communities Campaigns Officer, Fairtrade Foundation

In a previous life I worked with community groups raising money to support people living with dementia. Their passion stemmed from watching their beloved family members change in front of their eyes, ravaged by a disease with no cure. Before working for Fairtrade, I thought the depth of feeling couldn’t be as strong, as the beneficiaries of the Fairtrade system are so geographically removed from campaigners in the UK. I was wrong. The UK has one of the most powerful networks of Fairtrade campaigners, volunteering their time in towns, schools and places of worship to promote Fairtrade products and values throughout the community. Their passion for the farmers and workers who produce our favourite products is overwhelming.

Fairtrade campaigners work within their own communities as well as looking to international trade and development issues, often combining local and global concerns. Having had the pleasure of meeting local politicians throughout my career so far, I have largely found them to be genuine people trying to do their best for those in their constituency. However, their focus is often on locally relevant issues, much like the fundraisers I once worked with.

Members of European Parliament (MEPs) have a unique view of the policies and restrictions that govern trade and development, two elements particularly relevant to Fairtrade campaigning. Following the elections earlier this year, having allowed some settling-in time for MEPs to join committees and groups, a Fair Trade Advocacy Breakfast was held in Brussels to bring together politicians and fair trade representatives from across Europe. A team of delegates from the Fairtrade Foundation attended; myself, two members of our Policy team and our Sugar Product Manager Jon Walker, to meet interested MEPs and contribute a UK perspective to the proceedings. The Breakfast was chaired by Linda McAvan MEP, who is Chair of the Committee for International Development as well as Chair of the Fair Trade Working Group, a cross-party group committed to supporting fair trade policy at EU level.

Speakers including Nyagoy Nyong’o, Executive Director of Fairtrade Africa, and Sergi Corbalán, Executive Director of the Fair Trade Advocacy Office, eloquently introduced MEPs to the principles and aims of the fair trade movement over Fairtrade refreshments. Representatives were present from National Fairtrade Organisations and MEPs from all over the EU, with the largest table occupied by Fairtrade Foundation staff and UK MEPs. Members were encouraged to join the Fair Trade Working Group and engage with a variety of issues, from encouraging local authority support for Fairtrade in the UK to voting on policies addressing imbalances of power in supply chains at the European Parliament.

There are 73 MEPs representing 12 regions of the UK, which means that each constituency has multiple representatives. This gives campaigners the opportunity to reach out and build relationships with MEPs who have aligned values, or to set out to influence those who have entrenched oppositional beliefs. The EU has huge influence over international trade rules and business practices that impact countless small scale farmers and vulnerable workers across the global south. The relationships between constituents and EU policy-makers therefore have powerful implications: groups and individuals can impact international trade and development policy through their local actions.

This effect was evident from our Stop the Sugar Rush campaign in 2013 as campaigners rallied to lobby their MEPs to stop reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy. Unfortunately the reforms have been approved and will be effective from 2017 with devastating implications for sugar farmers in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries who rely on exports to the EU. This year we have already seen heavy competition from EU sugar beet companies, as well as a crash in the price of sugar in the EU, which will lower farmers’ incomes. This is an ominous sign for farmers in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries of the post-2017 EU market on which many of them rely.  An EU ‘transitional package’ designed to assist farmers to diversify or adapt their farming practices is being implemented with little transparency in how it will be spent. Sugar farmers are facing crisis.

We have the power to effect change: established campaigners and interested individuals can build relationships with local representatives and help them to represent their interests. Find out who your MEPs are and congratulate them on their recent election. Introduce them to your Fairtrade Town group and let them know of the groundswell of support for Fairtrade in their constituency. Invite them to events, engage them with issues close to your heart and help them to realise the impact that their decisions have on farmers and workers in developing countries. For further information and ideas for making your vote count for Fair Trade, join our Vote 4 Fair Trade campaign.

 

* Pictured Rachael Sweet, Community Campaigns Officer, holding a statement of what Fairtrade means to her for the recent Fair Future event.

* The Vote 4 Fair Trade project is financed by a grant from the European Union. The contents of this site are the sole responsibility of the Fairtrade Foundation and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.

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