International Fair Trade Towns Conference – A Global Affair

Courtney Lang December 13, 2012
By: Courtney Lang, National Organizer – Fair Trade Towns USA

Part of the US delegation in Poznan City Hall.

It’s hard to know when you’re in Boston, MA or Teaneck, NJ that there are tens of thousands of Fair Trade Town organizers across the globe.  As of December 2012, there are 1,227 declared Fair Trade Towns in 24 countries and 6 continents.  Imagine if we added the number of in-process campaigns – impressive, right?!

In November, six delegates from the US skipped across the pond to Poznan, Poland to meet with over 130 town organizers from countries as far away as Brazil and Japan, for the 6th International Fair Trade Towns Conference.  Here are my reflections, key takeaways, and quotes from fellow organizers in attendance!

The Future of Fair Trade Towns – An International Coordinator?

19 National Fair Trade Town Coordinators gathered to discuss the future of Fair Trade Towns!

Presently, there are 19 countries with National Coordinators and, as the Fair Trade Towns movement continues to grow and diversify, we are looking to establish an international coordinating body.

There is no doubt that the European Fair Trade movement is years ahead of us in many ways; Fair Trade is embedded in their consumer culture with a much higher level of awareness among the general population  However, our Fair Trade Towns model has desirable features that European National Coordinators are currently considering.  We are extremely unique in that we have a National Steering Committee that drives our strategy; we have our own web site and logo; and we take the “big tent” approach by including all 3rd party certifiers.

While there is a lot of work to be done and many decisions to be made on how and who will coordinate the International body, it was great to see the movement come together and agree that we’d like to see this happen.  We’ll be sure to keep you posted!

Practical Takeaways:  Fair Trade Schools and Producer Towns

Best said by conference attendee, Anna McMahon, “It’s the journey, not the declaration.”  This was in essence what the 6th International Fair Trade Towns Conference captured in my mind.  While the 5 goals to becoming a Fair Trade Town help set benchmarks for communities to engage in Fair Trade, we can’t stop there…  So, once you’ve completed the five criteria, what’s next?  The answer is deepening you community’s commitment, and you can do this by finding a town or school close by to mentor, or adopting a city in the global south to partner with.

TAKE ACTION: Would you like to explore mentoring a nearby town or school, or connect with a producer community?   I’d love to help you get started!  My email:  Courtney@fairtradetownsusa.org

Quotes from the U.S. Delegation

Each delegate expressed an individual desire to explore furthering Fair Trade in their local context through working with schools or connecting with Fair Trade communities in the South, and we hope that they can help foster other campaigns to do the same. Following are inspirational quotes from each of the delegates:

  • Melinda Haselton, Fair Trade Burlington Network (Vermont)I had the privilege of attending the 6th International Fair Trade Towns Conferences in Poznan, Poland. It was an amazing experience. Before I went, it was hard to understand what a robust movement we are part of. I knew that that there were Fair Trade Towns all over the world, but being able to go and meet other organizers face to face made a significant impression on me. This kind of impact cannot be made simply by reading and connecting through social media. I returned home with some great ideas on Fair Trade Schools, procurement and networking. The Fair Trade Burlington Network is going to continue the conversation with organizers from Fair Trade Wales. They have an impressive Fair Trade Schools program so rather than reinventing the wheel, we are going to learn from them and share ideas. I am thankful to be able to take away a tangible next step that will support our campaign efforts.
  • Ryan Scott McDonnell, Fair Trade Boston, Member, National Steering Committee - Attending the International Fair Trade Towns conference was extremely helpful for our organizing efforts about Fair Trade in the United States. During my time there I was able to learn more about the emerging European best practices helping municipalities support Fair Trade through public procurement. This will be helpful as we work together to grow our movement in the United States.
  • Dennis B Klein, Fair Trade Teaneck (New Jersey)Whenever an assembly of like-minded activists come together, the sum is impressively greater than its parts. The International Fair Trade Towns Conference  was, just by its very existence, a reminder that Fair Trade is a global, grass-roots movement. Indeed, I believe it served as a movement catalyst, taking all of us to a new level of purpose and resolve.
  • Anna McMahon, Fair Trade Bethlehem (New York) – Attending the International Fair Trade Towns Conference was a great way to tap into the energy of the wider Fair Trade movement.  The opportunity to meet Fair Trade advocates from so many countries around the world was empowering – a reminder that we’re part of a truly global initiative. On a practical level, the exchange of ideas at the conference may lead to some exciting developments in our home campaign in Bethlehem NY, including more outreach to local teachers and forging closer ties with a community in the global South.

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Courtney Lang, National Organizer | Fair Trade Campaigns

Courtney Lang brings over 5 years of community organizing to Fair Trade Towns USA, building both the Local Food and Fair Trade networks in Vermont. As Local Food Coordinator with City Market/Onion River Cooperative, Courtney worked with local producers, institutions and consumers to grow the local food system and organize a strategic model for community engagement through farm tours, workshops, and local food challenges. Like many in the Fair Trade industry, Courtney was inspired to take action in Fair Trade when she witnessed child-labor first hand in Costa Rica. As a founding member of Fair Trade Burlington, she has worked with economic development organizations, businesses, and consumers to build awareness of Fair Trade among Vermonters. She also worked with a Fair Trade USA licensee, Vermont Coffee Company, as Friend Ambassador where she united the story of Fair Trade to every purchase of coffee.