In October I was fortunate to be offered the chance to attend fair trade supporters conference in London. I have always relished at any opportunity this role brings and eager to learn more, I said yes and I jumped on a train. Before attending the conference I had little knowledge of fair trade, except events we held in my troop when I was a girl guide. After attending other conferences such as NUS Lead and Change where I got to meet a lot of other likeminded young people, I was excited once again to make lots of connections.
As I arrived at Kings College London and joined a registration queue it soon became apparent I was the only person in sight under the age of 50. As I did the awkward apologetic shuffle down an occupied row of seats in the lecture hall I wondered why I couldn’t see anyone my age. My day got off to a fantastic and inspirational start where we received an introduction talk delivered by George Kporye who is on the Board for Fair trade West Africa. He was an energetic and well dressed man and spoke to us about the impact of fair trade for banana farmers in Ghana. He was once a banana farmer himself, but from the opportunities fair trade offered, was able to learn and work up the business to become the director. He spoke of the opportunities fair trade had afforded him, such as the ability to buy a smart suit which he proudly wore on stage. A three piece suit so cherished by one man and yet taken for granted by many.
Following an inspiring start to the day I made my way to the second floor to see the photography exhibition about the introduction of fair trade gold. Fair trade gold is new grounds for the charity, moving away from produce was a bold move but one with life saving consequences. The photos, though beautiful quality captured a frightening truth. I looked into the photos in detail, examining the figures in the images of young people, perhaps my age and many younger barefoot in mines with only rags to cover their faces. I couldn’t help but to feel a sense of guilt that these were the conditions people were forced to work in to provide us with our luxurious jewelry many of us received under our Christmas trees this year. The hand full of mines fair trade now operate in provide safe conditions and suitable clothing and footwear for workers. The gold they produce is beautiful and I am hopeful for that the use of fair trade gold will become as common as the purchase of fair trade bananas.
Lunch time, and I am faced with a room full of people with very few spare chairs. I felt like a teenager in a high school canteen, everyone knew each other and nobody seemed to make eye contact to ask me to sit. I noticed pieces of paper on some tables with the names of counties and regions on them, and then I spotted one saying Yorkshire. Instantly feeling a sense of belonging to the county I grew up in I headed over and asked the ladies if I may join them. It soon became apparent to me that they had not seen the county sign above the table and were in fact from the London area and had strong views different to my own which made for a slightly awkward lunchtime. One thing which stays with me one of these ladies said was “I don't know why more young people don’t engage with fair trade, we’re improving the lives of young people and I can’t believe so many of you don’t want to do the same for people just like you who happened to be born on a different continent. How different your life could be!” She absolutely had a point, and I am writing this blog in the hope to educate more people about the positive effects of purchasing fair trade products.
I spent the rest of my day listening in workshops about how to campaign and create events and overall had a thoroughly enjoyable day. I think for a lot of people, getting involved with a charity can feel like a big commitment or a financial strain in harder times where many charities ask for monthly payments. There are lists upon lists of charities doing incredible work which you could support but fair trade is an easy one. A swap at the Asda from regular bananas to fair trade bananas will cost you 17p more and what is 17p in the grand scheme of things? 17p is the change you could find behind the sofa or in the bottom of your bag. It’s less than upgrading your daily coffee from a medium to a large and it’s less than freddo! But it’s one small change that has a huge impact on someone’s life, someone just like you.
We as young people have power and influence on the future but it is what we do with that power which will define the future of others. We have proven our ability to make change, evidenced by young peoples huge influence in the most recent general election, just one small act each by voting. The smallest of actions can equate to someones access to education or meals on a family table. It may not always be possible, but next time you do your food shopping consider buying fair trade options and play your part in a fairer future for all.
Abby Wilson – Vice President (Welfare)