by Steph Bennell, Fairtrade Town Co-ordinator, Framlingham
The launch of the Suffolk Association of Fairtrade Towns this summer is a much needed boost for poor farming communities around the world.
It always amazes me how small radical movements can change the status quo and gain international recognition. From Suffragettes to global justice movement, grassroot activism has driven change in local communities and subsequently inspired new social, economic and welfare policies.
The Fair Trade Towns campaign is a perfect example of a grassroots citizens’ movement at its best. Born out of passion and determination to create a fairer world, it has inspired communities and NGOs to campaign businesses and governments to stand up for poor producers in developing nations. And although there still is a long way to go till we make trade work for everyone, the campaign now boasts 1800 Fairtrade Towns around the world, including 623 in the UK.
Turning inspiration into action
In Suffolk, where I’m from, there had been Fairtrade activity for many years before the first towns gained their Fairtrade status, with Lowestoft leading the way in 2004. Others soon followed suit: Beccles, Ipswich, Woodbridge, Framlingham, Felixtowe, Leiston, Sudbury and Bury St Edmunds. However, it was only earlier this year that we truly joined forces.
As part of the Fairtrade Fortnight campaign, we were blessed with a visit from the delightful Kenyan tea farmer, Patrick Kaberia, who toured East Anglia and left a trail of inspiration wherever he went. Knowledgeable and articulate, he was able to connect with people of all ages and describe from first-hand experience the benefits Fairtrade brings to his community of around 10,000 smallholder tea farmers. He explained though that they cannot get the maximum benefit by selling all their tea through Fairtrade, because the market share is not yet big enough.
Motivated by Patrick’s story, seven of the Fairtrade Towns came up with an idea of initiating a county association for all the Fairtrade Towns in Suffolk. Working together made sense, especially as we had already been organising his itinerary and a website for the tour, with emails flitting back and forth like a shower of confetti.
So, on 30 July, we gathered together and launched the Suffolk Association of Fairtrade Towns (SAFT). At the event, we were thrilled to welcome our special guest, the Fairtrade Foundation’s CEO Michael Gidney, who passionately spoke about the movement’s future and the need to work together to strengthen the network of the local Towns. The delegates then spoke about their respective Town’s journeys to becoming part of Fairtrade. It was inspiring to hear that everyone is committed to Fairtrade values, with the concept of justice in global trade being the key driver.
People power at its best
Setting up SAFT is a big step forward in firming up the Fairtrade movement and its message across Suffolk. The future looks exciting! We are working to strengthen our presence on digital media and have created a dedicated page on Facebook (‘Like’ it to receive updates and get involved!). We will be contacting the two Fairtrade towns which have yet to join us and hope to encourage others to work towards the Fairtrade County award.
But most importantly, we will be working on pulling together a coordinated media campaign to promote Fairtrade Fortnight 2017, the highlight of the Fairtrade movement in the UK.
We all have the power to effect change. The Fairtrade Towns campaign enables local community to make a tangible difference to the lives of the people who need it most - those behind our tea, coffee or bananas, and to push their struggles up the political agenda. It is such a people-power thing and we all need to participate because, frankly, governments and companies don’t always think about the person on the ground.
Get involved in the Suffolk Fairtrade Campaign at www.suffolkfairtrade.org.uk.