June 22, 2009
Voice of Fair Trade: Are the Drums still beating?
by Ed Canela

One of the most important components that drive a solidarity economy is fair trade. The recently completed the voice of fair trade global conference which was held from 16 to 22 May 2009 in Kathmandu Nepal and hosted by the Fair Trade Group Nepal.

The event has been driven by so much energy and interest bubbling within the fair trade world, resulting from the Big Bang campaign of the recent World Fair Trade Day held last May 9, 2009. The world Fair Trade delivered the message…in one voice…loud, clear and crisp. Details can be seen in the WFTO website. The conference was led by Paul Meyers, former (from 2007 to 2009) incumbent president (2009 to 2011) of the WFTO. It was opened by the Chief Guest, Dr. Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder and Chairman of BRAC Bangladesh.

The first day witnessed the formal opening of the crafts market in the market place where__ booths from China to South Africa were shared with the audience. Then the new WFTO brand was presented followed some detailed discussions and workshops on the brand’s building blocks. The WFTO brand replaces the former IFAT brand. The various key events during the World Fair Trade Day were also highlighted. A plenary discussion on the creation of a sustainable business model followed. Fair trade organizations like Corr the Juteworks (Bangladesh), Trade Aid (New Zealand), Sinchi Secha (Ecuador) discussed how their organanizations are coping with the complex issues of sustainability. They shared their thoughts on what the Fair Trade Movement can do to insure short and long term survival of the millions of grassroot entrepreneurs via greater market access—globally and locally.

The second day focused on the discussions and recent progress on the development and implementation of a new WFTO label via the Sustainable Fair Trade Management System (SFTMS). The chair prepared the group by claiming that SFTMS should not replace Fair Trade with Fear Trade. After a brief presentation on the SFTMS, several FTOs shared their experiences on SFMTS from parachute (UK and Ecuador), Asha Handicrafts (India), Undugu Society. The SFMTS report of Parachuti for example can be seen in their website, check out. There were also presentations on the next steps and the list of several other FTOs that are inline for the STFMS implementation. Then the group divided into four small groups to discuss the system in much greater detail and depth. Fair trade was gradually replaced by Fear Trade. Confusion enveloped the hall. There were more questions than answers. Changes were made on the schedule to accommodate more discussion spaces. Focus of discussions included scope (including First Purchase choices and implications), choice of open and closed systems, relations between FLO and WFTO plus the indicators of the process against which evaluation of FTOs can happen. Check out the latest copy of the STFMS in the WFTO website. In the end, the Board agreed to resolve the issues via a series of special communication procedures, board and technical committee meetings.

This was followed by the practical WFTO solutions for change in which nine groups were organized to discuss the following issues: (1) the new WFTO retail standard, (2) Fair Trade Principle on Cultural Identity, (3) Trade Aid New Zealand and Impact Study Outcomes, (4) Colours and Trands to delight Customers, (5) The New WFTO Network Model and other e-Commerce initiatives, (6) The New WFTO Advocacy Paper, (7) carbon Trading: What it is and How to do it?, (8) Meeting between WFTO and FLO, and (9) Financial Planning and Management in Challenging Times.

The day ended with a presentation of the Trade Development Centre, a Belgian technical Cooperation Initiative to help WFTO members and producers in selected countries in Africa and Asia (Vietnam). Programme runs from now to 2013.

The third day focused on climate change and advocacy. The panel consisting of FTO representatives from Nepal, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Kenya presented how their members and supply chains are affected by the climate change. The sessions noted the climate change such as rising temperatures, rising, sea levels, floods, droughts, hurricanes, unpredictable weather patterns are impacting both at the operations and enterprise levels. The panel presented ways where the FTOs can work on vulnerability issues such as increasing community resilience to cope with impacts of climate change, livelihood programmes, disaster management, strengthening communities in managing early warning systems as well as reduction n gas emissions and further measures to protect the environment.

In the afternoon, the panel presented advocacy measures and strategies. The panel consisted of representatives from advocacy groups in five regions, (1) Africa, (2) CAJUNz+Fiji, (3) Europe, (4) WFTO Asia, and (5) Latin America. The participants were treated to a grand tour, cultural programme and dinner of the World Heritage Site of Bhaktaphur.

Half of the fourth day focused on regional issues and meetings. Each region had their own issues tracing back from the Balkenberg conference of 2006. The regional resolutions were derived and discussed. The Asian region noted communication concerns, recycling of issues, lengthy procedures, and quest for clarification. Candidates for the Board of Directors and WFTO President were officially presented to the voting members. In the afternoon, a panel presented on the current global economic crisis and it potential impact on Fair Trade simultaneous with Innovative Strategies for Coping with the Global recession. A representative from the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship presented the short term impacts of the recession on far trade and suggested a set of activities (loyalty: repeat purchase, Lifestyle: market positioning, and legitimacy: authenticity and advocacy can be used to mitigate the impacts. India, Kenya, Tanzania, UK and Netherlands presented how they are coping with the recession.

The session on WFTO and FLO was eventually cancelled as one of the speakers was sick. The judging for the crafts market exhibits was held.

The last day focused on the impact evaluation of the BaSE Bangladesh which has been an IFAT/ WFTO member for 10 years. This year it evaluated all 16 of their producer groups on the impact of being members of the Fair Trade movement. The result of this analysis “brings a picture with both lights and shadows. But we believe that in any case it was a fruitful work for us and that it can be so for others too”

This was followed by the Business sessions to prepare for the first WFTO Annual General Meeting. The AGM chair was approved, the agenda was read and approved, detailed discussion of the financial situation and draft budget and the presentations of new resolutions.


There is a strong case for the convergence of the Fair Trade and Solidarity Economy movements. This is already happening in Latin America. Individual discussion with some members indicate that fair trade is very strong at the ground level whilst solidarity movement is having much more focus on practical and academic domains. While the author was a mere observer, a strong endorsement for membership is recommended.

As a group WFTO is still in flux in its structure. It appears that several layers are being constructed. Global, regional and country levels. While this is definitely a laudable approach, it clearly shows that the application of fairness across the board is slowing the organization down. There many and complex legal issues, cultural issues, political issues, representation, constitution, membership inclusion (and exclusion together with the feared SFTMS), labels and branding, communications, decentralization of authority as well as members’ rights and advocacy that have to be resolved.

And while the conversations on the above issues went on, the struggle among the producers, members or not continues to unfold. They have done so for a long time, with or without the WFTO. As days pass-by more and more challenges in their day-to-day business of surviving continue to mount. Pius, a tinga-tinga dealer in Dar es Salaam or Waddah, a souvenir crafts seller in Bethlehem, or Anam, a rattan craftster from Solo will have to confront, higher costs, increasing debts, disappearing margins, thinning supply chains, and lengthening delivery times. Like thousands of others, they have to beat the crisis, competition, spiraling costs, climate change, and the looming inflation. Even if the delegates have all gone back to the respective places… And as long as Pius, Waddah or Anam have not heard the drums roared. And their voices heard. The conference is still far from over!

Article from the Asian Alliance for Solidarity Economy