Saturday, February 26, 2011

Defining "Competitive" in Local Markets

Recently Kate Meakin commented about Southern Fair Trade Networks expanding local markets... 

Hi, interesting to hear about an initiative that hopes to grow the internal market for fair trade- a very important move for all producer countries I think. 

However I also thought it was worth mentioning a similar initiative in India that I came across at a conference called Shop for Change. Although the idea is great I found out that one of the things they have done to make the products more suitable for the internal market (in other words cheaper) is get rid of the guaranteed minimum price which I'm sure most people would recognise as the corner stone to fair trade.

Growing internal markets for fair trade is really important, but not at the expense of fair trade itself! 

What Kate found in India is an important issue for Fair Trade to address as a global movement, and for the Southern Fair Trade Movement to ponder. What she observed is Shop for Change wanting to be competitive in a local market, but  they are overly centered on cutting costs. Unfortunately for the producers, the primary cost-cutting measure they employ is a reduction in the wages of the poor. However, there are alternative measures that need to be explored. 

Admittedly, Fair Trade products retail higher than non-Fair Trade products  (in the South, I estimate 5-10% higher) and there are a few key reason for that. Firstly, the producer is paid a fair wage, not a subsistence level wage. Secondly, the nature of working with small producer groups entails higher costs per product versus large scale manufacturing which can reduce costs and overhead through mass production. Also large production will decrease transportation costs per piece and so on.

What those in the North seldom perceive is the immense pressure in the South for FTOs to reduce prices in order to be “competitive” on local markets. Competitive in the South is not comparable to competitive in the North. Firstly, pressure exists because of the need to establish a foothold in the marketplace where little-to-no knowledge of Fair Trade exists. In the previous posts, I presented the importance of advocacy for trade justice parallel to retailing Fair Trade in the South as a showcase on how established principles can be incorporated as a business model, thereby localizing Fair Trade.

Secondly, products beautifully displayed on a self in the North may be unique amongst the store full of global crafts and traditional handmade products, but in Southern communities where those products are crafted, sorry to disappoint, but they rarely standout as unique. In the realm of crafts, many artisans are utilizing local traditions. The only notable differences found between their products and the same non-Fair Trade products flooding local markets are the unseen principles instituted behind the craftsmanship. 

Visit to a craft village: 

Crafts are made by locals and often sold to buyers or agents who represent the bottom rung in a long chain of middlemen leading to larger companies, which wholesale locally or export. There is a power relationship that exists between local artisans and the buyers, many of whom the Fair Trade producers have had some degree of experience in dealing with. In short, buyers dictate the price in a take-it-or-leave-it offer. For buyers, there is no room for discussion on ethics or utilization of child labor; they are there to collect select products and transport them out of the village. 

To remove our rose-colored glasses, a Southern producer group may be certified Fair Trade, but when global crisis hits and orders to the North are drastically cut back, those bulk buyers may be offering the only deal in town, and once again producers take a hit, Fair Trade or not. 

What is happening in the local markets of the South?

For those who venture south and go to the local markets, you will soon be inundated with locally made handicrafts. It is easy to get caught up in the haggling over a few cents, even in supposedly “hassle-free” shops. Ask where the product came from they can give you a location. Ask who made it and the discussion ends; such a question doesn’t register and eyes gloss over… Why care? It is only a handicraft. “Final price, you buy?”

The retailer is just trying to make a living in a highly competitive market. Buy low, sell high is his mantra. Questions regarding fair wages, environmental concerns surrounding production or assurances that the supply chain is free from exploitation are far from the concerns of a shop owner. His immediate worries center on his being able to irk out a living in a system based on exploitation. From his perspective, why should he concern himself with the needs of others while he is struggling to make it himself? There is no room for sympathy in this environment. Here, the definition of “competitive” is to buy at the lowest price possible, then turn around and get what you can in a single sale. The concepts embraced by Fair Trade, such as fixed prices despite a fluctuating free market, empowerment through traceability to producer, and transparency are far from the immediate realities of most markets in the South. 

What about the products that are exported to Northern markets? 

In 2007, I conducted a Needs Assessment in a craft village in rural Vietnam for a UN project. Following the value-chain from producers to exporters, I found 7-12 layers of middlemen; the further up the chain, the nicer the mode of transportation – motorbike at the low end, imported Lexus at the top. When I had an opportunity to travel to Japan, I found the same product for sale in a popular department store with the label “Made in Vietnam.” Having done the value-chain assessment in Vietnam, I did a quick calculation: the producer received just 0.5% of the retail price. To generalize from experience, if you peruse the fashionable import shops in Northern cities or the Wal-Marts of America, it is not difficult to estimate the realities of Southern artisans.

Despite the difficulty to enter local markets, the most basic principle of Fair Trade, to provide a living wage, cannot be offered up to the sacrificial alter of “competitive pricing”. I encourage the FTOs of India to re-define the term “competitive.” To be competitive does not mean to enter the global race-to-the-bottom in wages espoused by Free Trade ideology and which Fair Trade directly opposes. The Shop for Change of India really must rethink their strategy, and consider viable alternatives to this impoverishing and self-defeating measure! 

What is Competitive?

For Fair Trade advocates, to be competitive must incorporate more creative solutions than asking the poor to take a pay cut as a means to enter the local market. Competitiveness also incorporates value-added measures; diversification of products;  focus on providing high quality products; and targeting appropriate markets for Fair Trade goods. To this list of competitiveness, I like to add the need for effective advocacy to raise public awareness of trade justice

Keep in mind that Fair Trade is not a charity, it is a business model. Producers don't want your sympathy, they want empowerment through opportunity! 

Value-added measures: When we visited the mountain provinces of the northern Philippines, we saw firsthand an example of  value-added measures. I wrote about our visit in Introducing Fair Trade high above the Clouds. Rather than selling coffee beans at fluctuating free market prices (30-60 Pecos per kg), the farmers cooperative was buying the beans of their members at a fixed price of 100 Pecos per kg, roasting, packaging and serving coffee from their fields in a cooperative cafe. Not only did they value-add, they localized Fair Trade; they made Fair Trade tangible to the community. The end product was selling for 400-500 Pecos per kg and the dividends are utilized in community development projects and divided amongst the members.

In crafts, value-added measures are limited only by your creativity. For example, pair up with another cooperative to make decorative packaging from handmade papers or natural fibers. I worked in a bamboo and rattan craft village in Vietnam and found a young and dynamic couple that had gone to the nearby ceramic producing craft village and in collusion with other artisans, they created award winning products combining ceramics with woven bamboo and rattan. The value-added measures here also contributed to product diversification.

Diversification of products: Many FTO's I work with are constantly researching foreign and domestic markets for inspiration in their efforts to diversify products. The FTO in Cambodia I wrote about in the Sound of Silence was not diversifying product. As a matter of fact, it hadn't introduced a new product design for several years. Nor was it empowering producers by encouraging them to explore markets and generate new ideas. They were simply producing the same items they had made for the past several years. Complacency and lack of innovation is the death of an artisan.

In contrast, when we met with Reaching Out in Hoi An, Vietnam, the young, bright and English speaking salesman featured in the post, People with Different Abilities, was vital to the organization's success. He funneled customer comments and suggestions directly to the artisan for them to consider in future products; feedback from buyers directly links a producer to his or her market. In fact, in Reaching Out foreign and domestic buyers could meet the producer directly to discuss product design. 

Focus on Providing High Quality Products: Admittedly, retail prices of Fair Trade products can be 5-10% higher than mainstream products, whether other products are mass produced or made in the next village. For the average consumer, there has to be  a recognizable difference in quality. If Fair Trade producers are making the same low-quality nick-knacks found everywhere, then I question if you are really selling a product that qualifies as Fair Trade. For Fair Trade to function as a sustainable business, it must offer quality products. Again, Fair Trade is not a charity, it is empowerment through opportunity. 

In cases where Fair Trade products compete directly with major industries such as soaps or everyday, consumable products as alternatives to the mainstream, the industry has the advantage of mass production to reduce costs and overhead. However, personalizing the products to the consumer is a form of advocacy, but it also serves as a personal guarantee from the producers themselves - something a mass producing industry cannot offer beyond a tag declaring, "Inspected by #18." 

Targeting Appropriate Markets for Fair Trade Goods: Know your market! Gigi Labradores in the Cebu Fair Trade Shop, Philippines knew her market - she knew exactly what sold to locals, what interested foreigners and how to generate interest in those products. 

Localizing Fair Trade in communities also means having appropriate products. Chou and I met with a family business in Mindanao, Philippines. Go Bananas are producing banana chips for the local market, and over the past few years, they have become increasingly popular!  What started out as a hobby, turned into a venture that is on the cusp of becoming an international export. Locally grown bananas, "organic by neglect" as Mr. Manuel describes them, are bought from farmer groups he organized to ensure local and neighboring communities benefit from the trade. 

Measures for Effective Advocacy: Utilizing Shop-Based Advocacy is a powerful tool to introducing Fair Trade in Southern markets. Simply opening a shop and expect locals to pay fixed prices for products they are used to bargaining in the street for is a fast way to give Fair Trade a bad name. Advocacy must go hand-in-hand, even in a nation like India where poverty is rampant, to enter the local market you must parallel Shop-based Advocacy with high quality goods. Read Catalysts for Social Change and Franchising Fair Trade for ideas on effective advocacy.

For Small Producer Groups or Cooperatives...

A cooperative must learn what businesses understand so clearly. Firstly, if you are looking to cut costs, look internally and analyze the processes and systems utilized. Check for what time saving or energy saving measures you can make. To operate like a business is not to depend on charity, but to self-mobilize.

Secondly, cooperative members need to understand that they need reinvest in training and appropriate technologies. To reinvest in their own production, whether it is to cut material processing costs, or save time or reduce wasted energy, they need to take the same measures as a business without sacrificing jobs or wages. The producer groups that are proactive are the most likely to succeed.

Lastly, for cooperatives that are in need of purchasing equipment, there are ways to raise funds within your organization. If your cooperative is in need of funds for a costly purchase and a loan is not possible, take the approach of Dr. Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank. However, use his approach as a means to generate capital versus paying back an existing loan. Simply asking each member to contribute a small amount once a week over a period of a few months will generate a substantial amount of capital. Producers investing in their own cooperative; that is empowerment and that is Fair Trade!

It is my personal hope that this post will stimulate a discourse on what it means to be competitive in Southern markets and how it differs from competitive in markets of the North. If you have any ideas or suggestions, please feel free to comment below.


Mitch Teberg, MA

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Franchising Fair Trade

Our time in the Philippines has come to a close. Admittedly, we have learned many lessons from the Fair Trade movement here, but amongst the most valuable lessons here is how to introduce Fair Trade in local markets. Not surprisingly, many Southern Fair Trade Organizations (FTOs) have overlooked local community and national markets as they focused on exporting to the North. The reasons for this neglect center on the low levels of awareness of Fair Trade in the South; inherent challenges to enter local markets without external support; and the existing focus on catering, marketing and exporting to the North. “How and where do we start?” are often the first questions they face before attempting to enter domestic markets. 

I see the Philippine Fair Trade movement is working together to establish a united foothold in the local market. One of the first organizations I met when I arrived in Manila last month is the main organizer of this concerted effort: Advocates of Philippine Fair Trade, Inc. (APFTI). They work in close collaboration with the WFTO - Philippines

APFTI is an organization of expert marketers, networkers and advocates motivated by a genuine entrepreneurial spirit. Executive Director, Vincent Roaring explained the driving mechanism of APFTI, “If we are successful, we are successful in our mission. It is a mission, but it is the drive in our heart that really matters. We have to go beyond what is physically available to us. APFTI is run by social entrepreneurs; emphasis on social entrepreneurs. What is a social entrepreneur? Whatever he receives, whether it is 30% of the resources, he is committed to 100% of the mission. That is the spirit of APFTI; give us half of the resources, we will take care of 100% of the objectives.”

At this time,  one of APFTI's missions is the expansion of Fair Trade into the local markets. How to expand local markets has been an issue the social entrepreneurs of APFTI grappled with for the past couple years. Their solution: A national chain of Fair Trade Shops! They began implementing their project in 2009, and have learned a lot in the process of starting with four locally operated shops in Cebu, Bohol, Naga and Cagayan de Oro. Interestingly enough, each shop showcases local producers as well as cater to the market interests of local buyers.

Jennifer Garand, the Marketing Consultant at APFTI, went on to explain the management of the initial Fair Trade Shops. “These four shops, they are not really owned by APFTI, it is a partnership. APFTI partners with existing Fair Trade producers in the area as in the case with the Fair Trade Shop in Cebu where we partnered with Southern Partners Fair Trade Center (SPFTC), a known Fair Trade producer in the area; in Cagayan de Oro, with Salay Handmade Paper Industries. They are both members of WFTO – Philippines. In the case of SPFTC, it is an existing shop they converted into a Fair Trade Shop. It is really successful. In Cagayan de Oro, they were about to close the shop because they were losing money. Then we talked to them about the idea of a Fair Trade Shop, and after a year they are very happy. They doubled or tripled their sales and doing well now. The key is to partner with an established organization in the area.” 

If anyone thought opening a few Fair Trade Shops in a market with little-to-no awareness of Fair Trade sounded ambitious, how about starting a nationwide Fair Trade franchise? Now Imagine this:

20 Philippine Fair Trade Shops by 2015! 

Jennifer spoke about the shop operations. “At the moment it is 100% owned and operated by our partner, but that is not our plan. For the next 20+ shops, APFTI will be directly involved in management of the shops. At the moment we just assist them in the promotions and advocacy, and of course supply.” To initiate this effort, APFTI has received assistance from EU funders, but they do not plan to remain dependent on those donors. Many hard lessons have been learned from the recent economic crisis that continue to haunt the Fair Trade producers throughout the South. 

In the North, a Fair Trade shop may have reduced or stopped ordering altogether in order to weather the economic crisis, but in the South when every buyer you supply suddenly takes the same action, the impact is amplified and a global crisis becomes very personal. Honestly, every time I mention it with managers of Southern FTOs, I see a sadness reflected in their eyes; there is a sense of abandonment and disillusionment that trade is not all it promises to be, whether mainstream trade or Fair Trade, all is subjected to the same whims of a globally interconnected market.

Admittedly, to make Fair Trade Shops sustainable in the Philippines will be a real challenge. Essentially, it is a nationwide test to prove the viability of Fair Trade as a business model in local markets. Talk about putting it all on the line! Vincent noted that the strategies must be amended, “Adjustments will have to be made to ensure it is sustainable. If we see at some point the donors will disappear, or they are so fatigued, or EU organizations cannot assist, we need to make sure it is sustainable. That is a principle in Fair Trade.”

Shop-Based Advocacy

When we visited the leading Fair Trade Shop in Cebu, I asked SPFTC Director, Gigi Labradores about the motivating factors for opening the shops. She enthusiastically replied, “We thought Filipinos should be able to taste the products that we produce, not only foreigners. And then they should also see that there is a business that is socially oriented and fair, but it can be able to provide for the needs of workers; ensure the supply chain does not trample the rights of other people, but it is still competitive in price. It is also something we would like our countrymen to know, in Cebu and elsewhere, so it was an advocacy on trade justice and at the same time we are concerned for workers.”

Gigi shared about opening the Cebu Fair Trade Shop, “I guess we were a bit aggressive. We loaned a certain amount to put up the renovations. There were some problems with carpentry at that time so there were additional costs. We repainted the shelves and everything. The whole look was changed. The next thing was what to put into the shop. If we only put our products and if we only think about Cebu products, it will not be attractive to other buyers and Cebu is very particular; health and wellness products. So we had to be sure that our producer network and the WFTO partnership, and community members of other members could bring their products to Cebu.”

Perusing the Cebu shop you can find mango juice, kalamasi juice, virgin coconut oil and dried mangoes aligned on the shelves; decorative handmade cards from Salay in Mindanao, attractive handmade soaps, and fashionable handbags made of recycled materials; decorative crafts and gift items that tempt any buyer who is contemplating the perfect gift for a friend or loved one; and locally made cookies and Filipino coffee. They even have rice coffee!  Gigi described the customer preferences, “In our experience people come, like foreign tourists, they chose juices and dried mangoes. When locals come, they go for the health and wellness and there are also orders from companies for recycle products. This is the particulars of our market. We had a big order last December from companies for recycled bags. That was one of the big sale items in December.

Much to their surprise, the sales in the Cebu shop more than tripled in the first month of operation, and with a concerted awareness raising effort, sales have steadily climbed. Gigi shared her experience, “I think the advocacy work helps a lot in promoting all the things that you do, every month you have to be known, published in media, interviewed, to have activities so people can come to the shop. We partner with other civic organizations. It improves the sales.

If you want to expose what Fair Trade is and how it is able to address poverty in a country or a community that we commit to and serve, we should be able to make ourselves known and be visible. Fair Trade is not just a philosophy that adheres to addressing poverty, it is also a product that enhances or embraces quality. It respects the rights of people and producers and at the same time it takes care of the needs of consumers. So, we need to showcase and let Fair Trade be known. The product quality edge; we believe, if people can know, they can have a choice. There is a dried mango and other products that do not use preservatives and can be available locally.” 

Gigi went on to explain the function of the shop as a showpiece, “That is why we talk about advocacy and why we had to put up the shop. It is not just for income, is also the basic point for advocacy. People will not understand your thoughts if they don’t see anything concretely. Like this mango, it is produced in Cebu, we partner with these communities, and this is coming from the indigenous group. So people come, they appreciate what is being done, they know more and understand this is Fair Trade.” 

One thing Chou noticed was how the WFTO Philippines functions as the center of a strong national network of FTOs, while APFTI Fair Trade Shops are localized centers for producers to network and get involved in Fair Trade activities and advocacy in their community. Local shops were empowering local producers, making Fair Trade tangible to their neighbors! 

Out of a driven interest to learn more about this up and coming franchise, Chou and I flew to Mindanao to visit the Fair Trade Shop in Cayagan de Oro operated by Salay Handmade Papers. We met with Raelita Legaspi, the APFTI Consultant in northern Mindanao. She explained the suppliers of the products sold in the shop as members of WFTO Philippines. To this she added, “Some of those who display their product here are on their way to become WFTO – Philippine members.”  One strategy they have for enticing local producers to join Fair Trade is to provide market opportunities for their products in local Fair Trade Shops. Making Fair Trade accessible to producers is an important lesson here.

Rae described her current project in APFTI, “When we see that they are marginalized and see that their products have potential in the local market, we help them by giving them product development services, design and packaging services so their products become more attractive to the market. Then we help them sell in shops like this, but our efforts don’t stop there. We have a lot of activities with other sectors."

Youth and the Spirit of Volunteerism 

Rae went on to explain, "In the Philippines, there is no Fair Trade market to speak of because we relied on foreign buyers. It is only now they have been hearing about Fair Trade. It is very important for us to reach out. One of the sectors we think are very receptive to Fair Trade is the youth. We even have a youth Fair Trade network in the colleges and universities in the area. They have entrepreneur programs for colleges now and we touch base with these programs. They are in the bracket of 17-21 year olds, very idealistic. 

We rely on a lot of people who like advocacy, who have the heart for Fair Trade and the producers. They like it. I get the students to come help out. The good thing is when we have activities like marketing activities and promotions, they come and volunteer and work with us. In fact, I am the only APFTI personnel in the whole of Northern Mindanao. It becomes difficult because I am also in a project helping farmers and that covers a lot of rural areas in Mindanao I have to visit. We rely on partners and volunteers to help us with marketing Fair Trade products. We have partners in one of the schools and when they have a Foundation Day event, they ask us to bring products they can sell; anything to show people Fair Trade."

An important lesson needs to be touched on here because in some cultures or socially hierarchical societies, youth are all too often ignored. I challenge you, regardless of where you reside: Never miss an opportunity to engage the youth! Cultivate the interest of youth in the local, national and global Fair Trade Movement! Find ways to expand their exposure to the social issues surrounding Fair Trade locally and globally; facilitate their learning through direct experience; and above all, incorporate their ideas on how to expand Fair Trade! 

What do I mean by that? Listen to them, they are the future! We often forget that the youth of today are the consumers, advocates and community leaders of tomorrow. To harness their interest in addressing social issues their generation faces through Fair Trade is to provide opportunities for them to get involved directly; provide opportunity for the youth to own Fair Trade; empower the youth by opening avenues for them to take action!

Do a quick calculation: It doesn’t matter if you are a producer group in the South or a retailer in the North, how many high schools and universities are you actively engaged with at this moment? How many student clubs or Young Advocate Movements are you sponsoring through talks, experience sharing, or providing volunteer opportunities for? How many Fair Trade products are found on campuses near you? If you find that your ranking is quite high in this regard, I invite you to share your experiences in the comment section below. Find ways to support other Fair Trade movements around the globe by linking with them directly.

If you find there is room for improvement for your Fair Trade Organization or network, write a list of activities you can undertake in the next four weeks in order to engage local youth in your community. I assure you, the impact of your efforts will be felt in the long-term commitments they make to social change. Don’t let these opportunities pass you by. 

During my travels in the Philippines I had many opportunities to share my own experiences as a volunteer in a Fair Trade store near my Alma mater. For me, volunteering there was a formative time. I was encouraged to read about our producer groups and learn about the various social, political, and cultural contexts that shaped their world and influenced their work. I was amazed how in that shop the world became so small. A magical thread woven from the producer to consumer; from one heart to another, across seas, and across cultures, a single purchase united people across the globe. Genuine and true. That is the spirit of Fair Trade.

On a personal note...

There are many lessons to be learned from the development of a Fair Trade Franchise in the Philippines. In this blog I have highlighted a few that I found to be noteworthy. As for additional lessons learned and more of the how-to components, I will write more about those in a future publication which after all, is the purpose of this journey. Originally I was focused on presenting the voices of Fair Trade producers, and as I mentioned in the last posting, I overlooked a vital component of Fair Trade – the Catalysts for Social Change.

However, that is not all I have overlooked. As this journey enters the third month and the inquiry leads me to Indonesia, I see that there is a need to create a more comprehensive publication that is useful for Fair Traders around the globe; something that can present the contextual realities as well as provide practical tools that can be utilized by practitioners, advocates, and consumers alike; to present a common understanding of Fair Trade, the issues it faces as a movement, and reflect on lessons learned. 

I believe we need to go beyond the 50 reasons to buy Fair Trade and understand what is really happening when Fair Trade is introduced to a community. Not only that, but to look at how Fair Trade practices can be strengthened and improved; how to utilize holistic approaches that do more than touch upon social issues, but can be utilized to strengthen communities. For me, a future step is to find that socially aware and conscientious publishing company...

As always, we welcome your thoughts, ideas and suggestions. Your commentary is greatly appreciated. Thank you for joining us as we go to Indonesia to learn about Fair Trade there.

Mitch Teberg and Chou

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Catalysts for Social Change

Two months into the Journey we find that our stay in the Philippines was longer than expected. To put it succinctly, there was much to learn here on many levels. Chou and I have met with farmers and fisher folk, artisans, and craftswomen and men, all have been producers of Fair Trade products sold locally and exported to the North. Reflecting back over these encounters in the Philippines, I have learned much about the context in which Fair Trade supports the disadvantaged. 

Relevant to our inquiry, we heard and saw firsthand the multitude of issues Fair Trade addresses: defining a “living wage” in a local context; upholding human rights, women’s rights, child rights, labor rights, indigenous rights, land rights and fishing rights; embracing environmental protection and sustainability; promoting grassroots community development; and so on. We have also witnessed that maintaining Fair Trade principles in local organizations leads directly to higher achievements of people’s empowerment and social integration through unity for a common good with respect and human dignity. 

However, this hasn’t been the extent of our experience. We have also met other members of the Fair Trade movement. Most notably are the Fair Trade Organizations (FTOs), the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) which support producers. This includes the organizational leaders, management teams, trainers and staff. Secondly, we have met the Fair Trade supporters, advocates, innovators and marketers. The lessons they have shared with us have proven to be equally important in our attempt to understand and present the Fair Trade movement from the perspective of the South. 

In the local communities throughout the South, the FTOs, NGOs and CBOs, are what I have come to see as the representatives of Fair Trade. They are the Catalysts for Social Change. I say this because on one level, every community they engage with, these spokespersons bring with them the tools for channeling the abstract ideals into reality. They formulate concrete approaches to local challenges; they tackle the specifics, such as how to establish a system to maintain accountability; they design ways to ensure participation and transparency; and they make direct interventions to promote gender equity in their community. They are the Fair Trade practitioners in the South without whom the movement itself would cease to exist. 

I must admit, when I resided in the US and volunteered at a local Fair Trade shop, I had overlooked their efforts when viewing the tangible results of their labors in the handmade products and upon hearing stories of changed lives and hope for future generations. To remove them from the equation is to sidestep the core of national Fair Trade movements in the South. Reflecting back on my original purpose, “To present the voices of Fair Trade producers, artisans, weavers, farmers, and craftswomen and men,” I see that I, again, had overlooked their importance when setting out on this Journey. Without these women and men, Fair Trade would not exist.

Much is owed to these Catalysts for Social Change. Discussions with them have been both stimulating and enlightening. They have an understanding of both the reality they live in and the ideals they wish to integrate into their everyday work. They fully comprehend the challenges of disadvantaged producer communities and are fully committed to carving out an income generating opportunity for them that utilizes their talents, respects their culture, and treats them with dignity. 

However, a major change has occurred in many of their organizational strategies as a result of the global recession that left many out on a precarious limb. In order to ensure sustainability, many Southern Fair Trade Organizations have found that they need to look inwards to the local economies to expand their market. However, there is a low level of awareness of Fair Trade and what exactly it is these Catalysts do. I see that some organizations have focused on exports to the extent they alienated themselves from their local consumers despite benefitting their immediate communities. I see that Southern Fair Trade Organizations face a challenge if they are to ensure long-term sustainability:  

How to localize Fair Trade?

To localize Fair Trade in the South is to begin with advocacy. Fair Trade, it isn’t like any other business. This business comes from experience and reflection. In the North, after generations of exploitation and degradation countered with union protests, government regulation and international declarations of human rights, Fair Trade establishes where we should already be today as an enlightened approach to international trade and business. Discussing this with Fair Traders in the South is to recognize that when used as a business model, Fair Trade principles have a ripple effect in the local business community.

For an FTO to maintain its principles, it must ensure that its supply chain is also clear from exploitation, environmental degradation and child labor amongst many other ethical prerequisites. This means that local FTOs must engage with the community businesses and suppliers, and in the process introduce a completely new approach to conducting business. Often it will be the first time in the South for a small local business to be required to sign long term-contracts with stipulations guaranteeing materials are coming from sustainable recourses free from exploitation and that women are paid and treated equally within their workplace. In the very act of doing business, local FTOs become advocates for changing local business practices. 

However, advocacy must occur simultaneously on a multitude of levels. In the cities of the South, in the population centers and government seats, there must be a presence that can be heard and felt. I spent a lot of time discussing efforts to localize Fair Trade with Gigi Labradores, Director of the Southern Partners Fair Trade Center (SPFTC) in Cebu. She is one of the most dynamic, committed and knowledgeable drivers of the Fair Trade movement in the Philippines.

She spoke about the lack of awareness of Fair Trade in the Philippines and the importance of starting a national string of Fair Trade Shops. “That is why we talk about advocacy and why we had to put up the shop. A shop is not just for income, is also the basic point for advocacy. People will not understand your thoughts if they don’t see anything concretely… If you want to expose what Fair Trade is and how it is able to address poverty in a country or a community that we commit to and serve, we should be able to make ourselves known and be visible. That was the springboard to entering the market in Cebu. 

Secondly, we are producing quality products. We believe that our product quality has an edge over the others. For our dried mango, we don’t put preservatives, we don’t put coloring and it is something we should offer to the Philippine community. Fair Trade is not just a philosophy that adheres to addressing poverty, it is also a product that embraces and enhances quality; it respects the rights of people and producers and at the same time it takes care of the needs of consumers. So, we need to showcase and let Fair Trade be known."

The Philippine Fair Trade Movement is expanding their market locally in collusion with a concerted advocacy effort. In my travels from the north to the south of the Philippines I have had many meetings in which we discuss: How can we advocate for Fair Trade, we don’t have the resources? Recently, I had terrific discussions with the leadership and staff of Salay Handmade Paper in Northern Mindanao. As in many discussions centered on advocacy, the first thing that is brought up is a lack of resources. The second thing brought up is that Fair Traders don’t have training, or knowledge about advocating for a cause. 

Originally, I set out to listen and learn. Increasingly, I find that I take on a consultancy role or that of a resource person to present to groups or classes during my journey. More than once, I was asked during interviews or in group discussions, what can be done to address lack of awareness of Fair Trade. More specifically, I was asked for tools to advocate locally. Reflecting on this, I realized the need to provide practical advice to those interested in expanding Fair Trade, whether they reside in the North or the South. 

How to advocate for Fair Trade:

Advocacy for Fair Trade can occur simultaneously at many levels, and it can begin locally as in the example above with an FTO connecting with local businesses. Advocacy can occur anywhere and at anytime. Advocacy can be as little as a discussion over a cup of Fair Trade coffee! I believe the best advocacy is when they don’t know you are advocating. Questioning, sharing and inviting are approaches for a great start. 

Whether advocating in the North or in the South, when speaking of advocacy for Fair Trade, initially it helps to facilitate a group discussion with like-minded souls and concerned citizens. First, list out the local socially-oriented organizations such as churches, mosques or religious institutions, social networks, and organizations. Secondly list other socially influential institutions such as schools, community centers, and government units such as social welfare departments. These are your targets for advocacy and networking. 
For the advocates of Fair Trade, whether they are devoted, conscientious consumers or students enrolled in local colleges, they are a vital part of the future of Fair Trade. Every person, social group or classroom in which they introduce Fair Trade is to confront the concept of Business as Usual. I can think of no better place for an advocacy movement to begin than in a high school or university where minds blossom and new ideas form. No longer can multinational corporations just be concerned about the bottom line regardless of the methodology to ensure profits with high-end marketing campaigns and a Public Relations office to whitewash their image through showcased activities and charity donations written off as Corporate Social Responsibility. Ethics, human rights and environmental protection need to be engraved in the minds of students globally. 

Thirdly, list out what social issues, if any, are of concern to each of the groups listed. How do those issues relate to Fair Trade? Fair Trade addresses so many issues, it is hard to miss. A participatory and interactive approach is to divide this task into teams that will address issues that are of interest to them. For example, those interested in gender and women’s rights meet together as a team to discuss how they will approach local women’s organizations and social networks to introduce Fair Trade from that perspective. For those teams going into community high schools, work with local teachers to find the best method for discussing the topics and how it relates to what the students are currently studying. 

The fourth step is to set up an opportunity to meet with one or a few of the leaders to introduce Fair Trade as a viable alliance to their cause. In the cases of schools or universities, meet with sociology, anthropology, political science and history faculty who are receptive to a cup of coffee and discussion on the social impacts of trade. If you decide to engage with local government, come with locally made products in hand. In those democratic nations, local products equate to local votes to politicians; get them on your band wagon rather than you on theirs. 

For university students, come together and discuss what ways you can advocate for Fair Trade on campus. In my Alma mater, I had joined the Fair Trade Initiative. We set out a simple and direct means to introduce Fair Trade on our campus. We saw that coffee was the lifeblood of most students and decided on a focused approach to mandate that all coffee sold on campus be Fair Trade. We set up booths every day handing out free cups of coffee to those walking by and spoke to passer-by’s about the importance of making trade fair, and that here on campus we wanted to localize that idea starting with coffee. All we asked for was their signature. But we didn’t do this alone; we connected with other advocacy groups that demanded social justice such as the campaign to end the use of sweatshops to produce university sportswear and clothing. Over time we had enough student signatures to approach the administration and from our concerted efforts, the campus changed to 100% Fair Trade coffee. 

Admittedly, for every step forward, there can be three steps back. The next year they privatized many of the food services on campus, so the following Fair Trade Advocates had to confront Starbucks and the initiative continues on. Regardless, we raised awareness personally and directly with many students who have now moved on in their professional lives. Perhaps some of them are involved in Fair Trade now, I don’t know, but what we did was advocacy over a cup of coffee that changed a campus. Recently the University of Southern California in San Diego , California became the Most Fair Trade campus in the USA. How many campuses in the South are Fair Trade? The South produces many Fair Trade products for consumption in the North; there is a need to expand Southern advocacy efforts in this direction. Network with campus movements in the North; get their support and tips on how to bring social change!

Students are the future! Today’s student advocates are tomorrow’s local consumers, and in some cases like me, advocating doesn’t stop upon graduation – instead they become more dangerous to the status quo! 

To start you on the way to becoming an advocate for Fair Trade, I have listed a few areas how to get started in local advocacy, whether in the North or in the South:

Fair Trade Advocacy Matrix: 

Fair Trade Advocacy Matrix

In addition, I would like to present some helpful links to get you started in your advocacy!

The Fair Trade Advocacy Office (FTAO) speaks out for Fair Trade and trade justice with the aim to improve trading conditions for the benefit of small and marginalised producers and poor workers in developing countries. Visit the FTAO website to find out about their activities, download their Fair Trade publications and Public policy documents, and to sign up for their newsletter. 

The Fair Trade Resource Network is an information hub designed to grow the Fair Trade movement. Together, we can create a market that values the people who make the food we eat and the goods we use.
Oxfam International has ongoing campaigns and invite you to join them in their drive to achieve a world without poverty and injustice.

Global Exchange is a terrific resources for advocacy:

Global Exchange also provides a How-to Guide that shows what you can do to promote Fair Trade Products:

Equal Exchange is another resource rich website for advocates:

Lastly, having been a high school teacher in Japan, one resource that I have returned to repeatedly is Rethinking Globalization published by  Rethinking Globalization offers an extensive collection of readings and source material on critical global issues. Through numerous role plays, interviews, poems, stories, background readings, cartoons, and hands-on teaching activities, the book offers a memorable introduction to the forces that are shaping the future of our world.

I hope you find this posting interesting and informative whether you reside in the North or the South, and whether you work directly with Fair Trade producers or support them through your conscientious purchases. If you have experience in advocacy, or can suggest additional points to those listed, please add a comment to share with Fair Traders around the world! There is no substitute for experience! 

Thank you for joining us in this journey. Feel free to follow this blog and to add your comments, ideas or suggestions as we go.


Mitch Teberg, MA

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Stand in solidarity with the Egyptian Fair Traders as they and their compatriots call for an end of an era with peaceful democratic reforms.