Fair Trade Futures – Exploring Ethical Trade 2.0 – 7th November, Oxford

456906620I’ve explored some of the possibilities connected to digital media and Fair Trade on this blog before, but never had chance to get into really good dialogue about the potential and challenges of digitally enabled Fair Trade Futures. So I’m delighted that in 10 or so days time we’ll be devoting at least one session, and hopefully more time with the Open Space discussions in the afternoon, to the topic at the Fair Trade Futures conference in Oxford.

If you’re interested in how the Internet and digital media can be used to…

  • Bring greater transparency to Fair Trade supply chains;
  • Create stronger links between consumers and producers;
  • Support Fair Trade campaigning at a local and national level;

… and you could make it to Oxford on the 7th November – then register for Fair Trade Futures and come to join the discussion. The session on Fair Trade 2.0 I’m convening kicks off around 11, and we’ll hopefully dig deeper into Fair Trade 2.0 in Open Space discussions in the afternoon.

Also at the conference will be themes exploring government’s role in promoting a sustainable textiles industry, speakers from Fair Trade Research and from Fair Trade Businesses, and a Keynote from People Tree founder Safia Miney.

All socially-reported and Amplified by the great Amplified team so even if you can’t make it on the day – you can still get a flavour of the discussions afterwards.

Ask for Fairtrade (a twitter experiment)

Update: @askforfairtrade now has it’s own blog over here…

Have you asked for the Fairtrade option in a coffee shop that advertise it as an extra and been met by a bemused look from the person serving, been told that it’s out of stock, or simply been told they don’t sell Fairtrade coffee, in spite of the big Fairtrade logo on their menu?

I have. Quite a lot of times. And it’s really frustrating.

So, this morning I set up an @askforfairtrade account on Twitter to start finding our who the worst offenders are.

If you’re a regular coffee-shop hopper and you’re amongst the twitterati, then follow askforfairtrade, and when you’re next getting a caffine fix, make sure you request the Fairtrade option. Report the response you get by tweeting an update to @askforfairtrade.

I’ll aim to collate the reports on a regular basis and will get in touch with the best and the worst of the coffee chains to let them know how they are doing and to put the pressure on to keep Fairtrade on the menu.

Why does this matter?
Fairtrade matters. When a mug of coffee with the Fairtrade Mark is sold in place of a bog standard brew the farmers of the coffee beans are getting a guaranteed price for their labour, and a social premium is being invested in health, education and infrastructure projects in producer communities. Asking for the Fairtrade option makes a tangible difference. (Read more about the different Fairtrade makes on the Fairtrade Foundation Website)

Big companies are actively misleading consumers, giving the impression that their coffee is ethically produced and certified to Fairtrade standards, when in fact, Fairtrade is only available as an optional extra, and no effort is taken to actively encourage customers to ask for Fairtrade. In fact, from my experience, the level of service when trying to ask for the Fairtrade option actively discourages it.

By collecting reports of whether or not coffee shops and chains are living up to their promise to provide a Fairtrade option we can put pressure on them to make sure staff are trained, and products are in stock, for choosing the Fairtrade option to be the easy option. And we can demonstrate the consumer demand for Fairtrade as standard.

What would Fair Trade 2.0 look like?

Over at the newly arrived 2gether08 website Steve Bridger has been musing about what Fair Trade 2.0 might look like.

The FAIRTRADE Mark changes peoples behavior by giving them information about the products they are buying. When you buy a product with a FAIRTRADE Mark on you know that the producer has been paid a fair price for their work, alongside a social premium to be invested in development projects in their community. But the Fair Trade movement is not just about changing people's buying decisions in the abstract – it is also about re-forging the connections between producer and consumer that get lost in a globalised market-driven world.

Whilst my jar of Fairtrade Coffee might provide me with a story about one of the producers involved in the co-op that made it – the social web could do a lot more – and that could bring on Fair Trade 2.0.

What might Fair Trade 2.0 look like?

1) Producer Stories
The short quote from Daniel Minaya Huaman on the back of my jar of Cafe Direct is great – but to really know where my coffee comes from – what if every producer was offering the sort of stories that I can find at From Crop 2 Cup?

Of course, you might ask just how many people are really going to go any look up all the items in their shopping basket online? When I was working for Just Fair Trade in Leicester we explored options for moving to an electronic point of sale system that would print information about the producers on customers receipts. If the stories were there – we would have been able to give customers a far stronger connection with the producer of the products they were buying.

2) Seeing the whole supply chain
Right now the FAIRTRADE Mark tells me about the original commodity producer – but it doesn't tell me the whole story. For example, I don't know the conditions in which the Fairtrade Cotton trousers I bought from M&S the other day were made – and whilst I know that the farmer of the coffee I'm drinking got more for her work that she would have selling a non-fair trade product – I don't know how much of the money went to the farmer.

That's one of the issues that projects like FairTracing are seeking to address – tracking and laying the whole supply chain open to see in Web 2.0 ways. Try this prototype for example.

Or when it comes to an audit trail – what about this system from coffee path that shows all the documentation from along the supply chain.

3) Better decision making information

Ever since I first saw the Corporate Fallout Detector I've been curious about the simple ways in which information about the ethics of a product can be presented to people at point of sale in a straightforward way.

There are two challenges:
a) The space available on packaging can make it tricky to present enough information to people when they are choosing between products. Often the information gets reduced to product marks (Organic, Fairtrade, Non-air-freight) from certifying bodies. But my ethical views may not be fully captured by the certifying marks available.

b) Even when I can get all the information I want about a product, the cognitive load of calculating and comparing products is often simply too much (I find myself wanting to go back to a simple certifying mark of some sort).

Improving decision making in Fair trade 2.0 could go a number of directions. It could go the Wiki-way being explored by WIBI.IT or we could find more advanced versions of the Ethiscore and Gooshing ideas that make it easy to order products according to your own ethical beliefs – as well as according to pre-set values.

4) Making connections
All the ideas above are about getting better Fair Trade information for the customer. But social media also presents massive potential opportunities for actual dis-intermediated connection between producer and consumer. As internet connectivity becomes more ubiquitous on the supply side – could I find myself following my coffee grower in Twitter, and competing in an eBay auction for a premium supply of chocolate beans? Could I be setting up a live chat with a grower, rather than just showing a slide-show when encouraging my workplace to switch to Fair Trade? The two-way role of social media in the future of fair trade is not something I've not yet given much thinking time to… but perhaps this is where the future really lies. The technology creates the connection… and then it can almost get out of the way…

5) What else?
What do you think lies in the future of Fair Trade? What will social media transform? What are the challenges ahead. I'm sure Steve would appreciate your comments over on the 2gether site – and I'd certainly welcome any reflections here…

Corporate Fallout Detector image from: http://www.jamespatten.com/cfd/

Getting T-Shirts printed? Make sure they’re Fair Trade…

A common checklist for planning an event or promoting a new project:

  • Think up a name [CHECK]
  • Design a logo and brand [CHECK]
  • Find someone to print t-shirts with the logo on [CHECK]
  • Check that the t-shirts are made with fairtrade cotton……. um, check?

When I started campaigning for Oxford University to only sell ethically traded clothing back in 2003, we had to dig around and research a lot to find out how to source ethical clothing. The FAIRTRADE Mark for cotton didn't exist then – and choosing ethical clothes meant a six-week lead time and a lot of extra cost.


Things are different now. You can get ethically sourced and FAIRTRADE t-shirts printed for minimal extra cost – easily arranged and quickly delivered through any number of suppliers. And yet – and many events I go to – even those organised by 'ethical' organisations – I find I'm handed a t-shirt made by 'Fruits of the Loom'.

I was planning to use this blog post to share research I did three years ago on where to source ethical and FAIRTRADE t-shirts, as I thought it must still be tricky to find the right suppliers. But, looking at that document I realised a) that it's out of date, and b) a quick search for fairtrade t-shirt printers turns up almost all you need to know.

Top of the list right now, T-Shirt and Sons, certainly come recomended as I've been nothing but happy with service from them in the past, but chances are you can also find a local supplier near you now offering Fairtrade garments. In fact, I was pleasantly suprised to find Shirt Works in Oxford now also offer Fair Trade options – eliminating the final excuse of Sports Clubs and Societies in Oxford who formerly claimed it was too complex to opt for ethical when getting team tees printed.

And even if you find yourself with a complex purchasing need for a large number of ethical goods – there are people around to help. Salta Sustainable (formerly Fair Trade First) are, in my experience, certainly really helpful in supporting ethical procurement.

So, next time you're at a project meeting where someone says 'We need t-shirts' – just make sure you CHECK that they will come with the FAIRTRADE Mark…

P.S. If you're wondering why this is important, you can do worse than to start by looking at the Clean Clothes website here.