Globalisation, inequality and sustainable development: Where does FairTrade fit? by Ed Howarth

On the 4th and 5th of July 2015, Bristol will host the International Fair Trade Towns Conference.

This two-day event will explore how Fair Trade works to protect the environment, works with farmers to adapt to the effects of climate change and supports sustainable food production.

In the run up to the conference, Bristol Fairtrade invited local organisations to share their thoughts on the relationship between fair trade and sustainability – as well as why it is important to their organisation.

The simple answer, if you take ‘fair trade’ in its broadest sense and apply the approach and values of ‘fair trade’ to all producer/consumer relationships, then fair trade sits at the heart of addressing the challenges of globalisation, inequality and sustainable development.

Globally, 2015 is a momentous year in terms of global development and climate change. In September, all UN member nations will come together in a bid to adopt 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will cover a broad range of sustainable development issues, including; poverty and hunger, improving health and education, making cities more sustainable, combating climate change, and protecting oceans and forests. Unlike the previous goals, the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs will be as relevant to Bristol and Cardiff, as they are to Burkino Faso and Cambodia and the UK Government will have to take action to meet them and will be required to report on them.

Following this meeting, world leaders will be coming together for the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference (COP21) in December, with the aim of achieving a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C. Both of these global meetings will shape the future world, for better or worse depending on the commitment and leadership shown by leaders from around the world.

How much relevance do high level UN meetings, negotiations, and global goals have to the South West and South Wales? You could argue not much but I disagree, and my fear is that the lack of perceived relevance can fuel cynicism, which derails public engagement and maintains the status quo. Maintaining the status quo is not an option, but more than that, there is a moral imperative to change the status quo to ensure local and global inequality is halted and reversed.

How can we find relevance? Is the regional global development sector the answer?

Global to the Local

Relevance comes from connecting global issues with local issues that affect people and communities every day. It is the global-local connection that is the driver for a variety of initiatives and policy making across the region, including the International Fair Trade Towns Conference and European Green Capital in Bristol.

In Wales, the Futures Generations Bill, which is currently being put into law by the National Assembly for Wales, will require public bodies to take action and report on their work in pursuit of the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales, putting sustainable development at the heart of public policy and practice. The Bill also has an international dimension which will cover ethical procurement and Wales’ impact globally, which will allow the vibrant global development sector to ensure public bodies take their global impact into consideration when delivering services.

In the year of European Green Capital, could Bristol City Council not learn from Wales and adopt similar policies? Surely ethical procurement should be at the heart of the huge purchasing power that Bristol City Council has. Imagine, if all the uniforms of health professionals across the South West and Wales were made from FairTrade cotton…the impact on poverty reduction for cotton farmers in the ‘developing world’ would be mind-blowing, this must be within our reach.

Local to the Global

Increasingly the South West and South Wales is being recognised as the largest global development sector outside of London, through the South West and South Wales International Development Network. This gives us an even bigger opportunity to use our global connections, locally, to continue to support our local businesses, our public sector and all of us as individuals to ensure that our choice of purchases supports producers and limits the impact on the climate, be it a bag of coffee in our local supermarket, a financial investment or a pair of jeans. All of these items carry significant costs, which are hidden to us when we buy them. For example, the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, which killed 1,129 garment workers, who were making items for famous high street brands, such as Primark, Matalan and Mango. These types of incidents will continue to happen, if brands put margins ahead of ensuring a safe working environment and a living wage for their workforce around the world. Issues, such as this are being tackled by a Bristol based organisation, called Labour Behind the Label.

In Abergavenny, in South Wales, a small community organisation called Abergavenny Yirgcheffe Community Link has been working with partners in the Yirgacheffe region of Ethiopia for the past few years to import fairly traded coffee to the UK, ensuring a fair price for coffee farmers in Ethiopia.

With over 50 global development organisations and 100s of individuals in the South West and South Wales working with partners around the world, the region has a unique potential to bring global challenges, such as inequality, poverty and sustainability into the spotlight. It is in this spotlight that the approach and values of FairTrade must be promoted as an approach to create a more just and equal world.

It seems to me that the next 12 months will be an opportunity for the South West and South Wales to become leaders in creating the space for global issues to be addressed through local action and local policy making.

Edward Howarth – Chair of the South West and South Wales International Development Network – @SWIntDevNetwork