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Human Rights and Sustainability: Reflections from the 2019 Fair Trade Campaigns National Conference

Eight University of Dayton students attended the 2019 Fair Trade Campaigns National Conference in Chicago earlier this spring. The conference provided various opportunities for the students to broaden their understanding of Fair Trade, the many forms Fair Trade can take, and ultimately the social and environmental impact of the Fair Trade movement. Our students were inspired by the changemakers and entrepreneurs who spoke at the conference, able to network with Fair Trade organizations and businesses, and connect with other students representing their respective Fair Trade universities across the nation. Additionally, our students came to the conference with different backgrounds including the Human Rights Center, Hanley Sustainability Institute, and the New Abolitionist Movement. Given these diverse experiences, each student had a unique, valuable takeaway from the weekend. Their personal reflections are included below:  

“I am generally cynical of neo capitalism, disillusioned with the political atmosphere, and distraught about our environmental crisis. The weight of systematic inequalities wears me down and I often feel hopeless. What can we do about a system that intrinsically prioritizes profit over the planet and others? The Fair Trade Conference gave me new hope that change is not only possible, but quickly approaching.  Leaders and advocates of the movement shared their diverse and inspiring stories and experiences, and I believe their efforts are paying off and we are on the brink of a major systematic shift. Paul Rice, Founder and CEO of Fair Trade Campaigns spent over a decade working with farmers in Nicaragua and using aid to fund projects, with only limited success. He discovered the Fair Trade system in 1990, and realized he could work within the current system to enact change. “Capitalism has a lot of problems,” he explained during his keynote address, “but markets are incredible forces that can be used to lift people out of poverty.”  An entire restructuring of the economy isn’t necessarily required if we can bring Fair Trade to scale, a task I believe is within reach. Fair Trade has a 40% consumer awareness, implying this movement is on its way to the mainstream and change is on the way. The number of businesses exhibited at the conference (as well as large corporations like Kroger) illustrated the economic viability of Fair Trade. Ethical sourcing adds value to end products, and our purchases will continue to demand more Fair Trade Certified products. Learning from and networking with the over 350 local, national, and global Fair Trade leaders is an opportunity that comes far and few between, and I can’t thank HSI and HRC enough for the experience. We heard inspiring keynotes from former child laborers directly impacted by Fair Trade, business and community leaders, and students tackling conscious consumerism in their own high school. The breakouts illustrated the impact of Fair Trade in various industries and countries around the world and demonstrated the efficacy of this system. I feel inspired and energized to continue advocating for a more sustainable and equitable system of production.” — Emily Shanahan

“With a wide array of fair trade certifications, labels, and verifications, I have often found myself confused and sometimes frustrated when deciding which brands and products to support. This topic was addressed by various speakers at the Fair Trade Conference to ameliorate some of these worries by spreading the message that this movement is not about perfection. Speakers like Co-Founder of Honest Tea, Seth Goldman, and UD professor Dr. Talbott. Being Fair Trade Certified, Honest Tea strives to provide consumers with a beverage produced through ethical and sustainable means. However, being a large business that has since been acquired by Coca-Cola, there are reservations and controversies people may have when supporting the company. Goldman addressed this issue head on during a Q&A session by acknowledging that there are improvements within the company such as the large carbon footprint the company has through the shipment of their teas in particular their glass bottles. As Goldman demonstrated and explained, part of progressing to more ethical and sustainable practices is being transparent and able to acknowledge what issues are yet to be tackled. This was further emphasized in Dr. Talbott’s breakout session discussion on UD’s journey to becoming a Fair Trade Certified University. Starting as a petition to discontinue the purchase of Hershey’s chocolate, UD’s mission of becoming a Fair Trade Certified University transitioned from boycotting unethical companies to “buycotting” ethical ones. The purpose of this was to create an optimistic and encouraging state of mind for this movement by choosing to focus attention on the companies that are making positive strides toward ethical and sustainable practices and allowing the option to support the evolution of companies transitions to becoming more ethical and sustainable. To enact and see change on our own campus, it is our job to raise awareness about the importance of supporting fair trade products and brands and acknowledge the progress of change.” — Jenn Hoody

“Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are buzzwords in today’s culture, but some might ask how this relates to Fair Trade? Atiya Raja, Organizer of Queens, NY Fair Trade movement, and Chad Hiu, Director of Diversity and Inclusion for the YMCA, covered this topic in their Saturday breakout session. As Fair Trade continues to grow all over the world, it is important that there is diversity amongst its leaders to show people that Fair Trade is meant for everyone. It is not an exclusive initiative that not everyone is welcome in, but it is a movement that everyone should be a part of. Throughout the presentation, we were encouraged to think of the voices not represented in Fair Trade and how to advocate and partner with them. This idea, in my experience, that Fair Trade is for all was embraced throughout the entirety of the conference. With representation of many diverse demographic backgrounds, it was obvious that strides to making Fair Trade being as diverse and inclusive as possible are already being made. Adam Olson, Senior Advocacy Advisor, mentioned that Fair Trade is a bipartisan issue that is created on the basis of being fair to one another. Fairness, however, does not mean that every person is given the exact same thing across the board, but fairness is to promote equity or the idea that people should be given whatever they need so that they can have equal opportunity to succeed. Fair Trade is an equitable decision because it helps farmers, factory workers, and other laborers have the opportunity to earn a livable wage, build their community, and be self-sufficient. For Fair Trade to continue to grow, it needs to continuously diversify its advocates in order to reach as many people as possible.” — Jillian DeWitt

“Is there stigma attached to Fair Trade or conscious consumerism? Absolutely. Many assume these buying habits are a practice of the elite with a strong emphasis on financial means. In doing so, purchasing Fair Trade goods is often associated with a sense of self-entitlement and privilege, which can be further supported by the companies themselves. Specifically, when considering Fair Trade as a “brand,” the primary consumer and target audience for said brand is a 30 year old white woman with a college education. Commercializing Fair Trade in this way shifts the spotlight from Fair Trade’s core purpose: providing fair wages to producers, to a status symbol: supporting Fair Trade enhances the image of the consumer. So, how does the discussion surrounding Fair Trade return to its original intent and focus on improving trading conditions and quality of life for producers in developing countries? In other words, how does one de-commercialize Fair Trade thereby removing the “brand” and revitalize Fair Trade as a movement? Throughout the conference, one suggestion that has gotten significant traction is the use of narrative. Storytelling is nothing new, but it is exceptionally powerful when used wisely. Not only can sharing stories be used to increase the visibility of the producer but, for consumers, it can also create a platform to encourage more stories and voices within our own communities. In doing so, narrative will reveal itself in many forms, and define measures that can be taken to create more diversity and inclusion within and outside of this movement. Perhaps most importantly, it is a call to find our own responsibility in supporting inclusivity and diversity within and outside of the Fair Trade movement by placing value on narrative at home, at UD, and the other spaces we find ourselves. So, what narratives aren’t being heard in your community? What voices are smaller than others? What is needed to have them heard, and what can be done to ensure they are amplified?” — Lauren Wolford

“Often times the most difficult part of attending a conference is deciding what breakouts to attend. Certainly, the FT conference was no exception, but we managed to divide in conquer to cover the multiple tracks that were offered including: 1) Partnerships to Scale the Movement, 2) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Advocacy, 3) 2030 Vision: Fair Trade and the UN SDGs, 4) Fair Trade and Advocacy 101. I was able to attend Fair Trade 101: Systems and Standards. Having served as the lead organizer of the Fair Trade Coalition, I have done my due diligence to understand all that I can when it comes to simply answer the question “What is Fair Trade.” As in any new movement, especially when considering the global community in something as dynamic as worker rights and wage, systems of verification can be nearly impossible to standardize across the board. Fair Trade alone is not protected, anyone can state that their business or organization is fair trade. To answer our questions, representatives from the leading verification organizations: WFTO, Fair Trade USA, Fair Trade International, and Fair Trade Federation. A statement, from Billy Goldsmith Director of Fair Trade Campaigns, from my best recollection, “It is very rare, that you will find 4 competing organizations in the same room sharing best practices and without the intent to persuade you one way or another.” Reminding us how unique and mission driven this movement is. A fellow Mechanical Engineering student and I were delighted to hear Rudi Dalvi, president of WFTO,  has a background in mechanical engineering, giving us comparable hope that all backgrounds are welcomed and needed in the fight to make Fair Trade more widely known and supported.” — Sarah Richard

"The words “fair trade” evoke specific images for people—I think of Farmers from impoverished countries happily holding fresh produce, stores like Ten Thousand Villages that sell artisan chocolate, coffee. I feel safe in saying most people support at least the idea of Fair Trade—who wouldn’t feel just a little better knowing that their clothes weren’t made by children in a sweatshop, or that their chocolate didn’t involve the enslavement of women? Still, how many of us actually check to see if the products we buy are ethical? How many of us actively seek out fair trade companies? Even as someone who cares about human rights and working conditions, I have to admit I don’t always think about where my food is coming from, or who made my clothes. This was a big theme during my weekend at the Fair Trade Conference in Chicago, and the best solution to this problem was brought to me in a break out Session called “Case Studies in Diverse and Inclusive Advocacy.” One sentence from a Fair Trade organizer from Queens by the name of Atiya Raja changed my perspective: Fair Trade should be a movement, not a brand. Fair Trade should not just be a brand for wealthy, socially-conscious consumers, but a movement to make all trade fair, from top to bottom. As much as I love the expensive artisan coffee I bought from the conference, my $1 coffee from McDonald’s should be fair trade, too. The goal of the movement should not only be to create fair trade options but to make every option fair trade. I realize how ambitious that sounds, but movements can start small—petition your favorite companies to go fair trade, put on pressure to improve working conditions, minimum wage, and other violations against fair trade. Support the companies who are fair trade right now, and be vocal about it. Fair Trade is not just for your typical social-justice minded college student—Fair Trade can be for everyone, if we make it accessible to everyone.”— Bridget Graham

“I find myself running through a world that is full of unaware consumers that only care about getting a good price on items they do not need. While I am not excluding myself from impulse buys and needing to save money, I have found myself feeling hopeless in ever making an impact on this constant cycle. When I hear girls talk about the deals they got a Forever 21 or flash their Starbucks coffees, I can’t help but think about who was impacted by that. Those feelings and frustrations have left me feeling like I don’t have a voice, but this conference helped snap me out of that. When I saw the girls from Whitney M. Young High School, I found myself inspired by young leaders who are helping to pave the way to a better future. Their passion was radiating and their hearts were so clearly in the right places. They made me want to go out and make a difference. At such a young age, these kids took on the challenge of understanding consumerism and facing the truths behind it. These are things many adults cannot bring themselves to terms with. From there, I thought about how I have that influence here with my job at the Hanley Sustainability Institute. As an education leader at the Hanley Sustainability Institute, I spend a lot of my time making lesson plans and one of those is specifically about fair trade and fast fashion. When I sit down to write them, I become overwhelmed by the complexity of this issue and how to convey it to the student body. What I am realizing more and more is that I have ability to make a real change. I find myself frustrated with what I can’t changed instead of greatful for what I can. Paul Rice, the CEO of Fair Trade US, said that while capitalism is seen in a negative light, it can be better. Businesses need to change and move forward, not disappear. It sets me at ease knowing that businesses are doing their part and joining the Fair Trade movement. As a consumer and educator, I need to make sure I am doing my part. This means showing students what is happening and sharing stories of the farmers I got to hear from at this conference. Their stories put a face and name to these issues that cannot be overlooked.” — Marigrace Moses

“Since transferring to UD just three short years ago as a Human Rights Studies major, I have been challenged to ask myself daily ‘How can I be a conscious consumer?” Attending the 2019 National Fair Trade Conference granted me the opportunity to examine this daily question on a larger scale alongside my peers, students from around the nation, scholars and business owners from around the world. My biggest takeaway from the conference was the realization that fair trade is disciplinary, meaning that studying and understanding fair trade means studying root causes such as poverty, global warming, human trafficking, racial injustice and others. As keynote speaker Deray Mckesson stated, “Rarely do you ever enter a one-issue space, we have to be mindful of the intersectionality.” Learning this has helped the way in which I view my work through the Human Rights Center for Abolition Ohio which focuses on leading the anti-human trafficking coalition in the Miami Valley area. Through many of the keynote speakers and breakout sessions I was able to attend, one message seemed to resonate throughout and that was about the importance of policy change. In both developed and developing countries, governments have been willing to put politics ahead of people which creates the space for injustice to occur on such a rampant level. Fair trade gives an excellent example of passionate people coming together to fix and enforce policies that ensure what is best suited for everyone.” — Nicole Weeber  

This collaboration between the Human Rights Center, Hanley Sustainability Institute, and Abolition Ohio grants University of Dayton students the opportunity to attend and represent the University at the Fair Trade Campaigns Conference. As a Fair Trade University, the University of Dayton supports this movement through our purchases and daily choices right here on campus. For Emily, Jenn, Jillian, Lauren, Sarah, Bridget, Marigrace and Nicole our status as a Fair Trade University now has an even more precious meaning. Catch them around campus to learn more on how to support the Fair Trade movement for the common good!

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