By Francesca Giubilo, Coordinator of the World Fair Trade Organization-Europe
During the last week of May, more than 260 participants from 50 countries across 5 continents gathered in Milan to take part in the biggest Fair Trade event of the year, the 2015 World Fair Trade Week! The first four days were dedicated to the Biennial Conference of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), where members of the Global Fair Trade network as well as those interested, like scholars, experts, businesses and students, attended to discuss pressing issues of the Fair Trade movement and to celebrate WFTO’s 25th anniversary.All the activities were run in a very positive and stimulating atmosphere, where representatives of the entire Fair Trade supply chain, from the production to sales, took part in the debates.
“I’m very happy to be here and meet people from all over the world to share dreams and ideas. I think this is the way to make this world more fair and ethic”. Lorena Vergara – Pueblos del Sur (Chile)
“I’m very excited because I’m looking forward to meeting old and new friends here, to see where Fair Trade is at the moment, how producers are doing, how FTOs are doing in terms of sales and where the future of the Fair Trade movement is”. Marlike Kocken – European Fair Trade Association (EFTA)
The Biennial Conference officially started on 24 May, with an inspiring speech from Palagummi Sainath, a renowned Indian journalist, reporter, and traveler, who highlighted a number of major crises around the world which affect people already living in vulnerable situations. According to him, hunger and thirst are the two greatest issues faced by humanity, as they are creating self-regenerating inequality. During the opening ceremony, a word of solidarity was addressed to the delegation from Nepal, who shared their experience and current difficulties that the Fair Trade organisations and overall Nepalese people are facing after the terrible earthquakes of April 2015.
Three days of intense workshop activities and plenary sessions followed the opening ceremony. In the afternoon of the opening day, three Guaranteed Members of the WFTO shared their experience with use of the WFTO product label as well as some marketing strategies. According to Trade Aid’s General Manager Geoff White (New Zealand), the label adds value to member’s product lines, while Selyn Exporters (Sri Lanka) highlighted the importance of using the WFTO label to penetrate the local market. Safia Minney of People Tree in Japan and UK found that using the label in a variety of ways, including on webpages, social media hashtags, Fair Trade related events (like World Fair Trade Day), and email communication, can be very beneficial in promoting the own brand.
Fair Trade pioneer Francisco Van Der Hoff, who shared his vision on the essence of Fair Trade and its main benefits for small producers, greatly animated the plenary of the second day of the conference. As highlighted in the programme, several topics were also at the heart of the workshops, starting from the Guaranteed System to the questions how to promote successful Fair Trade Campaigns, taking advantage of new and existing markets and advocate for Fair Trade. While Oxfam-Magasins du Monde and Traidcraft shared some best practices on how to launch successful Fair Trade campaigns, Sergi Corbalán from the Fair Trade Advocacy Office (FTAO) had the opportunity to foster some constructive reflections with the participants on how to advocate for change and how to deal with governmental regulations on Fair Trade.
Gender and climate change, as well as the social and solidarity economy were also at the top of the discussions. More specifically, WFTO reiterated its commitment to work more on gender issue via the specific WFTO Working Group and agreed to explore more deeply the issue of the “domestic Fair Trade” to properly react to the current multiple dimensions of Fair Trade, which includes North-North, South-North and South-South trade.
A special session was then dedicated to the Fair Trade Towns campaign, a grassroots campaign started in 2000 in the United Kingdom and quickly spread across the world, and to Fair Trade Fashion. Both People Tree and CTM Altromercato gave some concrete examples on how fashion and Fair Trade can coexist, and the important role that communication plays to raise awareness. More about the workshops can be watched here.
The Biennial Conference was finally closed on 27 May after the Regional and the WFTO Global Annual General Meetings, which was reserved for WFTO members.
Four days of inspiring words, exchanging experiences and fruitful discussions about common strategies took place in a very friendly atmosphere, participated by great people – representative of the entire FT supply chain – who are fully committed to Fair Trade and strongly believe in its importance to promote sustainable development and justice.