The welcome signs to Ashbourne proclaim that it is a FairTrade town. It is something I’ve never even thought about before and subconsciously I’ve responded in my head with “Who isn’t” or “So what”. In fact, the Fair Trade designation is something we should be proud of and something we support.
We’ve all lost touch with our food over the last fifty years. We’ve moved from a society that would touch, smell, look closely, shake and squeeze everything, Those skills, passed from generation to generation, ensured that we ate the freshest and best. We valued, and would pay for good quality in our food. Our close connection with what we ate and drank kept us closely associated with the producers and retailers of those products. Social Media v0.1 was the conversation over the garden fence or in the cafes and reputation mattered. I was brought up in a household where you went to a particular butchers for meat, a particular market stall for vegetables and only certain cafes had the right tea and cakes. For whatever reason the skills of our grandparents (because it wasn’t just the womenfolk, the men were better gardeners producing good quality vegetables) weren’t passed on to the next generation and so we haven’t received it either and we won’t be passing it on to our children any time soon.
The supermarkets packaged products in a way which made it difficult to quality check in the right way – we gave them the responsibility to do it on our behalf. A much greater proportion of our food and drink intake is now done outside the home or involves takeaways which we have no benchmark for comparison. The producers no longer have to keep us satisfied with what they produce – they have to produce what the retailers want. The retailers then have to market the products to us and often we are using price and appearance as our only indicators of quality. Our lifestyles demand longer shelf-lives and products which we have tasted on our travels and so inherently we are compromising on quality by trading it off with availability.
The producers have had mixed fortunes. The supermarkets have brought volume and the ability to have lower costs of production but they have also brought a fierce market. In the UK produces have found themselves being faced with lower margins and nervous times as the contracts are renegotiated. They have been forced to find even cheaper ways of producing their products and the cycle downwards continues. For imported products the supermarkets apply the same logic to the importers or to the producers directly but they have far less attention to the impact of their trade practices on the communities involved – and in poorer, less organised economies there is less ability to fight back.
This is why the Fairtrade organisation was established. It is a charity which encourages ethical practices in the farming supply chain. www.fairtrade.org.uk. Fairtrade certifies those producers – small farmers, plantations and companies which operate fairly with their workers:
Health and Safety
No use of illegal child labour
The certified locations are then audited to make sure they stay compliant. The Fairtrade pricing is set through involving the farmers and workers and they also decide how the premium will be spent and this process also helps to seal good working relations and development of transferable personal skills. Fairtrade isn’t about provenance of food or environmental stability but about improving the economic reality for farmers around the world. Ashbourne is in a semi-agricultural community and we want the same support for our own farmers. In the UK recently we have established that we are willing to pay a little more for our milk to ensure that farmers get a fair deal. We are also finally beginning to look a little closer at the contents of the plastic packages our supermarkets present to us.
Of course, Fairtrade would have no impact if no-one wanted to buy the products and this is where the Fairtrade branding in the UK comes in. Ashbourne has had to gain the certification and has to continue to work to retain it. There are 5 criteria which had to be achieved:
1. The Local Council had to pass a resolution of their commitment to Fairtrade and agree to serve Fairtrade products in their offices and at meetings. Derbyshire Dales District Council and Ashbourne Town Council have both committed.
2. At least four Fairtrade product ranges are available within the town and at least two are available through catering outlets. There are 19 outlets shown on the map on the Ashbourne website www.ashbournefairtrade.org.uk along with lots of supporting bodies. The map shows which products are available where.
3. Local workplaces and organisations support Fairtrade and use products wherever possible. Churches, the council, the Derbyshire Building Society, Ashbourne Arts and the Lounge are among supporters also listed.
4. The organisation works to arrange events, media coverage and raise awareness of Fairtrade. The are regular events and coverage within the newspapers. People like Carry Somers and Pachacuti are recognised nationally for their work.
5,. There is a steering group overseeing ongoing development. Steve Parker in Natural Choice is a contact point.
In the early days there must have been a lot of work to achieve Fairtrade status for the town. There are over 500 Fairtrade Towns in the UK now and many more around the world. Ashbourne achieved it’s accreditation in 2005.
Fairtrade is important because it represents the values we would all want for our produce, regardless of where it comes from. What we eat, what we drink and what we wear and how it gets to us is too important to be left to the financial marketplace. By buying local we can taste, prod and smell. In many cases we can talk to the growers and makers or the retailers who know them. We can support the ones we like and vote with our feet. Fairtrade does the same for the suppliers who are too far away for us to do it ourselves.
There is a Fairtrade premium but there is also a supermarket premium. We know that the extra we pay for Fairtrade goes back to the source rather than to a UK shareholder. The distinctive Fairtrade logo above is the thing to look for because producers are using all sorts of words which sound the same but don’t mean the same. Have a look at the Ashbourne website and its easy to support the organisations involved. This will also encourage other local companies to make the small adjustments needed to strengthen our status as a Fairtrade Town.
There’ll be more publicity shortly as Fairtrade fortnight begins on 24th February. It’s focus is on highlighting that supermarkets have halved the price of bananas but the cost of production has doubled.