What Would You Fight For? Thoughts from Robin Roth
Are there any values that you are willing to fight for? Go to prison for? Die for? Traidcraft CEO, Robin Roth, shares his thoughts.
I suspect that most of you will be slightly taken aback by that question, if not somewhat embarrassed. Apart from the obvious, (Brexit) we are, by and large, a compromise seeking nation not prone to outbursts of civil disobedience.
Getting passionate about something is, quite honestly, a bit juvenile and awkward for friends and family to deal with.
It’s certainly getting harder to be passionate about fair trade when even the most frequently boycotted and despised food multi-nationals have their token range of ethical products in the shelves. And in any case, what really is fair trade nowadays? What exactly are we fighting for? Ask 10 different people and you will get the proverbial 20 different answers.
At Traidcraft, as we reboot the company, we have recently been spending time trying to capture precisely what it is that we are passionate about, because if we are not passionate, then what is the point? We’d just selling products without a purpose. (If you really want to know about how to get arrested, do keep reading by the way.)
We found that there were exactly three things we agreed on, which, given that there are 12 of us, came as a bit of a surprise.
Firstly, we are actively, openly, noisily passionate about equality: gender, sex, religion, opportunity, regardless of background, heritage, experience or inheritance.
It’s possible to be in agreement with all of this, of course, but it is quite a different thing to fight for it. It is, thanks to a few, quite remarkable individuals that we have what is today known as the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Between the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War, just as the UN was being established in New York, Eleanor Roosevelt and a small team of international diplomats pulled together one of our richest heritages. When we promote fair trade we promote international co-operation and respect for each other. For us, fair trade is about social justice.
Secondly, we burn strongly for trade justice. 40 years of fair trade has done nothing to counter the incredible power imbalances in international trade. It’s provided an alternative for a few lucky groups, but world-wide the impact has been negligible.
It’s not easy to understand this unless you experience it first hand, but when a company that trades more than 10% of the world’s cocoa comes to your cooperative and tells you exactly what price you will be getting for your few measly tonnes of cocoa, you don’t enter into negotiations. You doff your cap, you take what’s given, and you don’t complain lest you are boycotted the following year. For us, fair trade is about economic justice.
Thirdly, we are increasingly concerned and worried about the killer effects that climate change is having on our partners. The reality of climate change will not hit us in the UK for a few years yet. For producers who are reliant on fickle weather patterns and fragile eco systems, the pain has already started. And of course, one bad harvest means debt, often at ruinous interest rates, or a move to the shanty towns and slums of the many new megacities.
We don’t feel the pain – (yet) – but if the poor small holders, who produce 70% of the world’s crops can no longer harvest, we will feel it sooner rather than later. For us, trade is about environmental justice.
So, would we really be willing to get arrested for any of this?
In Columbia, members of the Communidad de la Paz (Peace community) were willing to risk death throughout the long guerrilla war between the FARC and the government by refusing admission or passage to anyone carrying weapons through their lands. Volunteers from around the world agreed to spend months sleeping with the farmers to “protect” them. Social justice to the point of death, anyone...?
For years, right wing paramilitaries ravaged throughout Latin America ensuring that cooperative leaders were quickly and effectively silenced. Some of the best-known fruit brands like Ffyfes, Del Monte, Chiquita and Dole stand accused of human rights abuses in the name of profit. Economic justice for torture?
And here in the UK, there is right now a group of climate scientists and academics who are utterly appalled at the science they are observing, compared with the lack of action being taken by the government. Their goal is to address the real issues created by runaway climate change. Have a look at Extinction Rebellion online – and be inspired.
These are serious, thoughtful and highly profession academics who are prepared to go to prison because the cause is too urgent. Environmental justice even in the polite UK?
At Traidcraft we have begun by challenging ourselves. Where is our passion? What will we fight for?
Well, the above is just a part of what we’re thinking, and month by month we want to start sharing with you more of our thoughts. We hope you will be inspired as we change our culture from one of “being terribly polite” to one of being something more challenging.
Others are prepared to go to the wire for their values, and we owe it to the millions in poverty to make a stand for their social, economic and environmental rights. Who knows, the next you hear from me may be from a police cell…!