WASHINGTON - More than 700 business leaders and individuals from 20 countries took part in the 2005 "Fair Trade Futures Conference" Sept. 30-Oct. 2 in Chicago. The event, at the start of National Fair Trade month, featured 50 workshops, testimonials from producers, and interactive opportunities to showcase and shape the future of Fair Trade in North America.
The Fair Trade movement is a global network of producers, traders, marketers, advocates and consumers focused on building equitable trading relationships between consumers and the world's most economically disadvantaged artisans and farmers. It includes labor and human rights advocates, environmental and student organizations, responsible businesses and others. Fair Trade organizations follow a set of principles including: trade as a tool for poverty alleviation, transparency and accountability, capacity building, fair prices, gender equity, safe working conditions, no child exploitation, and concern for the environment.
One prominent supporter, former President Jimmy Carter summarized its goals in his letter to attendees: We [The Carter Center] proudly support the growing fair trade movement, which uplifts the basic principles of human rights and human dignity and takes positive, concrete steps towards poverty reduction."
In North America, where Fair Trade is the main mission of some 150 businesses, annual sales of Fair Trade products grew by 53% in 2003 and again by more than 20% in 2004. Growth in sales value, types of products, and number of lives - both producer and consumer
- being transformed by Fair Trade is accelerating.
Conference panelists and participants addressed these trends, explored what it means to live a "Fair Trade Life," and showcased Fair Trade products, programs and organizations. Topics addressed included: Coffee Partnerships and Policy, Consumer and Student Involvement and Empowerment, Labeling and Certification of Fair Trade Products, Faith-based Communities, The Fair Trade Business Model, Crafts and Fair Trade as a Development Tool, Hurricane Katrina's Impact on Domestic and International Fair Trade, and Africa's Experience.
Of course a wide variety of Fair Trade chocolate, gourmet coffees, and other treats were available throughout for participants to sample and enjoy - reminders that even such a serious and important topic can be fun, and tasty. An abundance of crafts were also on display including ceramics, furniture, toys and musical instruments from several continents.
The fun continued Saturday evening with a concert by Chicago AfroBeat Project, and a "Fashion for Action" Show. Colorful and creatively crafted apparel, jewelry and shoes from Asia, Africa and Latin America were debuted in a unique and light-hearted blend of Fair Trade activism and the world of fashion design.
October is National Fair Trade Month, as designated by TransFair USA, the only third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the U.S. The month-long celebration will be marked by a diverse array of events from gourmet food tastings to presentations by Fair Trade farmers, to discussion panels and film showings.
The conference was convened by the Fair Trade Federation and the Fair Trade Resource Network, with support from: A Greater Gift/SERRV, Catholic Relief Services, Cooperative Coffees, Equal Exchange, Lutheran World Relief, Oxfam America, Ten Thousand Villages. Sponsors included: Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, TransFair USA, and World of Good. Details and background are at www.fairtradefutures.org.