Don’t Just Buy. Do. Reflections on Fair Trade Futures

[Summary: Reconnecting Fairtrade with activism, thinking about Fairtrade and data, and how social reporting can transform events]

The Fair Trade Futures conference that took place in Oxford on Saturday has been well reported and captured, but, before I head over to start tidying up and re-posting the fantastic content created by Amplified on the main Oxford Fairtrade website, I thought I would add just a few quick reflections on the day.

Don’t just buy. Do.
As inscribed upon a banana by @oxfordsing, this ‘slogan’ captures the tension at the heart of the Fairtrade movement right now, and a thread running throughout the day. As Fairtrade reaches the mainstream, the connection between Fairtrade and activism, and the importance of linking Fairtrade with Trade Justice can become dilluted. Fairtrade is about building ethics into purchasing decisions, but, it’s also about building ethics and justice into trading relationships. That was a point made well by People Tree founder Safia Minney who spoke of how we need to push companies to respect principles of Fairtrade throughout the production process, not just in the inputs they buy.

The challenge, for the Fairtrade movement, is being in the mainstream, being a set of standards, but also being the first step for people on a pathway to engagement with wider global issues.

Data, data everywhere
I spent a lot of the day in conversations about the digital dimensions of Fairtrade. After a morning including presentations from Dorothea and Ian of the Fair Tracing project, and inputs from Steve Bridger and Pete Cranson on social media and Fair Trade, we spent one of the afternoon open space sessions talking about ‘Fair Trade 2.0’.

Asides from discussions about how social media could lead to greater disinter-mediation of supply chains, we also discussed the transformation of trade as being ‘trade in stuff’, to being ‘trade in stuff + data’. That is, the move, led by retail giants like Wall Mart, to enable every individual product in a supply chain to be tracked from origin to consumption, with vast collections of data on products and customers collected and created. How does Fairtrade, which is in one sense, a very simple bit of data for consumers about the conditions in which a product was made, engage with this environment?

As firms may be compelled to collect more data on each product, to come into line with safety regulation, how can we ensure ethical information is embedded alongside the other data that may follow a product on it’s journey? And how can that information be made meaningful and useful to time-pressured shoppers? Are ethical criteria needed to account for fair trading in the data that might travel with a product – so it does not become a source of commercial exploitation? And can the rise of a data-rich supply chain be subverted in the cause of ethics?

Amanda Gore, who was blogging with the Amplified team, has further notes on the discussions here. This was a session full of questions – but one raising issues I’m sure will be cropping up more in discussions of Fair Trade in future.

Amplified Events
There were quite a few experiments going on with the Fair Trade Futures conference. It was the first time many of the organising team had experienced any Open Space sessions, and for most delegates, the first time they had been at an event being actively digital reported.

I was a little nervous about the digital reporting – as I’ve seen it work well at technology events, and in youth events, but I’ve not experienced digital / social reporting in action with a community for whom social media is not part of the everyday. Yet it worked fantastically. And by the end of the day, many delegates were won over to the potential of social media to help capture, curate and continue conversations started at an in person event.

There is still much to learn about how best to use social reporting to catalyse online community (for example, I would love to work out how best to equip delegates new to social media to try their own blogging and twittering from sessions, without spending too much time training them up, or distracting them from participation in face-to-face discussions), but the team from Amplified certainly demonstrated that we need to be adding digital dimensions to many more events outside the social media mainstream.

(Co-incidentally, Amplified are currently setting up as a non-profit, able to marshal teams of digital reporters to all manor of events, so if you’ve got projects and events coming up that could do with an online edge, I would certainly recommend getting in touch with the Amplified team.)

Where next…
Fair Trade Futures was the follow on event from a Fair Trade conference held in Oxford five years ago. I have a feeling it may not be quite so long before the next events are held here – and I would love to see an event taking place soon dedicated to the digital dimensions of Fair Trade. No plans yet… but if you might be interested, do get in touch…