Fair Trade is a local, national and global endeavour. It is a network of organisations and people that stretches across the world in a commitment to fairness in trade.  I offer some reflections on where we are now as we mark 10 years as a Fair Trade Nation.

Poster that says 10 Years Fair Trade Nation A Fair Trade Future for People and PlanetWhat has changed in that 10 years? What have we changed? Is global trade fairer? Have inequalities diminished? Of course, much has changed. But global inequalities in trade remain entrenched.

We rightly celebrate successes but we also take this anniversary to recommit our efforts to change the way trade and business is done. We join our voices here in Scotland with the calls for trade justice around the world. Small voices joining with other small voices around the world – in solidarity to build a loud collective voice for change.

What have we learnt over these 10 years? What are we still learning? Certainly, we have further valued the strength that comes in partnership working with others committed to change – as part of the global Fair Trade. But it is also why we actively seek to work with those outwith the Fair Trade movement committed to doing business and trade differently. It is why we took the opportunity as part of our 10th anniversary programme, to host a webinar with the World Fair Trade Organization and social enterprise organisations to explore together our shared commitments to doing things differently. It is why the Scottish Fair Trade Forum partners with the Trade Justice Movement, the Corporate Justice Coalition and Trade Justice Scotland Coalition. It is why we work closely with the Malawi Scotland Partnership, the Scotland Malawi Partnership and Scotland’s International Development Alliance.

Fair Trade has an important contribution to make to public debates about how we respond to the climate emergency and how we shape our economy – the climate emergency needs an economic response as well as an environmental response and the Fair Trade movement is well placed to contribute to that debate. Trade injustice is fuelling global inequalities and the climate emergency.

One thing that hasn’t changed over the last 10 years is the importance of our grassroots campaigners across all parts of Scotland. But the way grassroots campaigners engage has undoubtedly changed. The nature of campaigning has changed. There are still many Fair Trade Groups across Scotland who meet, plan and successfully deliver in ways that they have always done. There are many more that are adapting how they campaign and engage and there are some that are struggling to engage people in the traditional way. There are also a growing number of Fair Trade supporters and campaigners who wish to engage in different ways. Our task over the last 10 years has been to support Fair Trade campaigners, those who chose to campaign and organise in traditional ways and those who are actively seeking new ways to engage. There is strength in having a diversity of campaigning and engagement that is grassroots led and relevant to particular communities – what works in one place may not work in another.

As we were approaching the 10 years anniversary, we set out with our partners, Fair Trade Wales to refresh the Fair Trade Nation criteria that was drawn up over 15 years ago, to reflect changes in campaigning, business and society in that time to ensure that the criteria is relevant, robust and challenging. That refresh process is continuing.

Another essential part of what we have be doing over the last ten years is supporting Fair Trade businesses. And it has been a tough time for many of them. Fair Trade businesses face the same challenges of any business such as the challenges associated with the pandemic but they also face competitors that are not committed to the same higher ethical standards of doing business. The approach that we have taken and continue to take is to offer support to Fair Trade businesses to sell their products and in doing so to support small-holder farmers, artisans and workers now.  But as well as promoting the good, we campaign against the bad. Unless, we change the power imbalances in global trade, businesses seeking to act fairly will always be at a disadvantage.

We also currently see changes in the approaches to Fair Trade globally as we have seen the concept of northern producers and also south-south Fair Trade become part of the discourse over the last 10 years as globally we have recognised the false dichotomy of a view that saw those in the global north as consumers and those in the global south as producers.

Scottish Fair Trade Forum staff team holding placards saying 10 years Fair Trade NationWhen people ask me what is the point of being a Fair Trade Nation, I usually reply that firstly being a Fair Trade Nation gives us an opportunity to celebrate successes and achievements and that is a good thing – we should congratulate Fair Trade businesses, campaigns and supporters who have successes. But being a Fair Trade Nation is more than that, it is about having a lever to use to get further action and it is a platform to stand on and invite others to stand on with us to make the case for Fair Trade and trade justice. It’s about having a platform to share with coffee growers in Rwanda, rice farmers in Malawi, textile workers in India. Hopefully, the last 10 years as a Fair Trade Nation, has seen us make good use of sharing that platform. It is only together in partnership with others as global voices for change that we can create a Fair Trade future for people and planet.

Martin Rhodes

23 February 2023