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The last 7th of October,the Fair Trade debate ‘Let’s build together the Fair Trade Puzzle’ finally took place in Brussels.

The team of WFTO-Europe and Oxfam-en-Action were both extremely enthusiastic, after months of hard work to organize this event.

Even if we had less people than expected, we are very satisfied, because in the end our efforts were well compensated by the great interest that students showed for the topics discussed, giving also a confirmation of the important role that this kind of debates play in raising awareness on Fair Trade.

Around fifty people, including national Fair Trade actors, students and young people from Brussels were present and contributed to make this debate informative and inspiring. The atmosphere was cosy and friendly, students felt comfortable in expressing their opinions and raising their doubts about the issues analysed.

Below you can find a wrap-up of what happened in each of the 4 discussion groups

  1. How to deal with North “FT” products?  (Emilie Durochat, Sophie Tack, Corentin Dayez)

People discussed about the fact that FT should also take care of local producers and promote local and organic purchases. Injustices due to unfair trading conditions are present in the North as well as in the Global South.

Taking the need of protecting farmers in Europe into account, Corentin Dayez from Oxfam-Magasin du monde, for instance, underlined that they are already selling North Fair Trade products, and promoting local organic baskets. The French Fair Trade Platform ( Plate-Forme Française pour le Commerce Equitable) started also to work on local Fair Trade in 2011, in partnership with French producers’ organization like the National federation of Organic agriculture  which were sharing common goals : to maintain agriculture in France, create jobs in the rural areas, to promote sustainable agricultural practices, etc. On this other side, consumers, citizens and Fair Trade actors were also interested to have a broader approach to Fair Trade, and to spread it to the French producers. The French Fair Trade Platform made official in June 2014 its national charter of “Local Fair Trade”, which identifies 14 key principles as an adaptation of the Fair Trade principles to the French and European context. To know more about this national charter:

Agribusiness destroying South farmers is a quite recognized consequence of global competition, but European producers are affected too. Most of the consumers tend to think that we do not need to support North producers because they receive subsidies but 20% of the most industrials farmers receive 80% of the Common Agriculture Policy subsidies. So peasant in the North are facing double disadvantage: their way of producing respecting the environment costs more, but they have to enter the same market as very industrials ones. Second disadvantage the unfair market rule that does not take into account the externalities gets even worse because theses industrials receive subsidies that peasants do not get.

The environmental coherence is also important to be taken into account if the product comes from far away. So buy local, but if it comes from the South, make it fair!

2.       How can we convince citizens to buy Fair Trade? How can Fair Trade be promoted at local level?  (Gabriella D’Amico, Barbara Mrázková)

The national actors stressed that the first thing to convince citizen to buy Fair Trade is to explain the added value of a fair trade product that means also sometimes higher price. Higher prices are usually connected to better salaries for southern producers, rather than higher quality of the products too, environmental protection and better labour conditions.

Another powerful tool to promote Fair Trade at local level is to organise public events, such as FT fairs, FT breakfast, or National Days for FT (the WFTDay) in order to attract media’s attention and raise awareness among consumers. An important mean to promote Fair Trade, is to catch people attention in situations where they feel comfortable, and so to avoid for instance, promoting Fair Trade on the streets, where people are always rushing and are not keen to talk. It’s hard to have people attention when they are so much solicited. A useful suggestion can also be to organize local events in different places at the same time.

According to the participants, young people and also children are also a good target, as they are the customers of the future and usually curious about the world. Flash mobs, Fair Trade cartoons, school projects and movies are all useful tools to catch their attention.

The national actors stressed two strategies in which Fair Trade can be promoted at local level: spreading positive information about it and also highlighting the negative aspects of the conventional Trade. Fair Trade should be promoted as a normal way to do shopping.

Fair trade on board JPEG

3.       Should be fair trade sold in supermarket?  (Giorgio Dal Fiume)

Three main points/ conclusions were raised in this discussion group:

1. This is a difficult and tricky topic for the Fair Trade movement.
People analysed the topic under 2 different perspectives:

2. The biggest problem with mainstream Fair Trade is the contradiction with Fair Trade values.

3. Despite the incoherence of this practice, it is impossible now to change the rules and to stop selling Fair Trade products in the supermarkets. In this sense, the main question is not anymore whether Fair Trade should be sold in supermarkets or not, but which role Fair Trade should have in the mainstream economy and supermarkets?

So far, selling Fair Trade products in supermarkets allowed Fair Trade movement to have more visibility and to increase sales volume. Nevertheless, this topic raises some problems. Firstly, the consumption model promoted by mainstream economy is the one who is denounced by Fair Trade. Secondly, supermarkets might use Fair Trade merely for image and marketing purposes, and they can negatively influence the Fair Trade criteria in order to adapt them to their needs and practices.

Fair Trade seeks to raise critical thinking but can this be done through supermarkets? Fair Trade tries also to change the system but can this be done at little scale aside the mainstream economy? To answer to these questions we have to ask ourselves what is the finality of Fair Trade, to increase sales or to change the current economic system? And how to change it? Part of the answer lies in awareness rising and advocacy. It is thus important that Fair Trade organisations stay strong and their needs and values are taken into account from governments and the mainstream economy. They have to work together to guarantee the fundamental principles of Fair Trade and stay coherent.

4.       Should the governments/international institutions keep their hands off fair trade or should they promote Fair Trade? What is our role on it? (Led by Francesca Giubilo and Sergi Corbalan)

  • International: taking into account the vision and mission of the FT movement an action at this level is necessary. International organizations must be active in the promotion of fair trading practices which work in support of small producers. The role of FT movement is so to keep high the attention of the main international actors and to push forward FT principles.
  • National: people raised up interesting points linked to the risk of having a strong regulation of Fair trade at national level. Fair Trade is perceived as a grassroots movement and the main power on it has to be kept by citizens and people from the South. If the governments keep Fair Trade on their hands there is a risk of manipulation and losing this contact with the reality. Bearing this risk in mind, citizens and people from the South have to promote Fair Trade and be sure that governments recognize it as a priority in their own agenda. However, the Fair Trade movement has to be vigilant and be recognized as the only actor who can guide the government in its work to support Fair Trade

The discussions above summarise some of the main concerns and doubts that the Fair Trade movement is currently facing. In this sense, this debate has been extremely interesting to exchange opinions and views that need to be further analysed in the future.


According to the survey launched after the debate, this event was very interesting for students who were already sensitive to the subject. Globally their expectations have been satisfied. The participants underlined the high level of the speakers, and the opportunity to have different nationalities and points of view represented. The topics discussed, and the atmosphere received also positive impressions. On the other hand, the lack of students´ participation, and time to discuss were badly seen. Nevertheless participants learnt that there are still controversial issues about Fair Trade and that it is important to exchange opinions on that. They learnt that north have to be taken into consideration and that we need to raise awareness about it. Half of the participants said that the debate will have an impact on his daily life when it comes to buy Fair Trade products in supermarkets, and on his willingness to be more informed on these different topics.


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