It is seven years since the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were formally adopted at the United Nations. Four years ago, the International Fair Trade Charter was launched by Fairtrade International and the World Fair Trade Organization.

4th Anniversary of the Launch of The International Fair Trade Charter front page imageMuch has happened since the SDGs were agreed and the Charter launched. Few of us would have predicted the impact of Covid across the world over the last few years. Sadly, the climate emergency and its impact were very much predictable and seven years on from the launch of the SDGs, the aim of achieving the goals by 2030 seems to be more difficult than ever.

Read Fair Trade and the Sustainable Development Goals in 2022 for examples of how Fair Trade supports each of the 17 SDGs.

An understanding of how global trade and business is configured is central to understanding global inequalities. This understanding is an important part of the foundation that we need in order to build an effective strategy in response to the climate emergency. The International Fair Trade Charter sets out the fundamental values of Fair Trade and defines a common vision towards achieving the SDGs. Fair Trade is a proven way of doing business that contributes to a just, equitable and sustainable world bringing together traders, retailers and consumers along with smallholder farmers, artisans and marginalised workers. It offers radical and tested business models for progressive change challenging inequalities and injustice.

It is clear that the climate emergency will not be successfully defeated by environmental measures alone. Important as environmental measures undoubtedly are, the response to the climate emergency needs to be environmental, social and economic. Fair Trade is not just important because it can support climate mitigation and adaption but also because it is a model of trade and business that does not reinforce the global inequalities that feed the climate emergency. In fact, it sets out to diminish those inequalities through alternative models of business and trade putting people and planet ahead of profit.

We need a new economyThe globally dominant approaches to and models of business and trade are still rooted in the legacy of colonialism and industrialisation. We cannot tackle the huge challenges of the climate emergency without fundamental change to global trade and business; and we cannot afford to continue with business-as-usual driven by profit ahead of all else. There can be no climate justice without trade justice.

Fair Trade has a significant role in the response to the climate emergency – it has an important contribution to make along with others seeking change. No one group, organisation or person has all the answers. Those answers need to be discovered and developed by listening to each other and acting in collaboration. Fair Trade needs to put its case but it also needs to listen and respond dynamically to others who are equally committed to contributing to tackling the climate emergency with both urgency and persistence.

In February next year, it will be ten years since Scotland was declared a Fair Trade Nation after its assessment by an expert panel. This anniversary will provide an opportunity to reflect on that commitment. Fair Trade Nation status recognises achievements by campaigners and others but more than ever it is and needs to be a commitment to further change. The climate emergency is a call to Fair Trade to respond anew to the challenges of inequalities – inequalities laid bare by the climate emergency. The anniversaries of the SDGs, the International Fair Trade Charter and the future anniversary of Fair Trade Nation status offer us opportunities for reflection. We need to reflect but we also need to act now. Action and reflection need to work in tandem to achieve the change we need.

By Martin Rhodes, Chief Executive, Scottish Fair Trade Forum

23 September 2022