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Fair Trade Day

By: Expat Advisory Posted: January-01-2006 in
Expat Advisory

Last month was the observance of World Fair Trade Day and many of the groups working in this area got together at Phnom Penh's National Cultural Center to celebrate it. The crowd included craft producers and the general public, checking out information booths, playing games, watching some performances and sewing a giant kromar together. We posed a few questions to organizers Nina Howard (Artisans Association Cambodia) and Annie Perng (Village Focus International):

NH: There is so much information out there about Fair Trade - it swamps people sometimes, and its meaning can get lost in complex standards. But to me it's all about 'Trading Fairly' -- bringing the environment and peoples' rights and responsibilities back into international trade. Making sure that all people -- from the producers all the way to the consumers - have a relationship to each other.

AP: Fair Trade essentially means an alternative way of doing trade. Fair Trade differs from the way mainstream trade currently operates -- mainstream trade has been allowing the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer. This pro-poor concept unites several movements:

1. in developed countries, to encourage socially responsible consumerism and to advocate for fairer international trade terms,
2. in developing countries, ensuring that all aspects of the production of a good are made "fair" ( i.e., producers are given a wage sufficient for them to live with food security, the ability to send their children to school and to save money, etc.)

And how does it relate to 'Free Trade'?

NH: I feel, basically, that Free Trade is about competition, and at the moment it's 'unfair' competition. Competition in trade is risky because it directly affects peoples lives. 'Free Trade' is not really 'free' - as it's freer for some countries and not for others, and this is usually in the 'developed' world's favour.
Fair trade is about trying to bring the international trade scales back into balance?

AP: Among economic justice advocates, Free Trade is often seen as the antithesis of Fair Trade or at the very most misleading. Groups like the World Trade Organization (in which developed countries wield the most power) encourage developing countries to remove tariffs and loosen government regulations in exchange for economic benefits in trade through WTO membership.

However, these tariffs are sometimes vital for the protection of poor farmers and artisans from developing countries. Without these tariffs and regulations, farmers and artisans in developing countries cannot strengthen themselves and fairly compete with artificially cheaper, and mass-produced goods (from developed countries) which are freely dumped into local markets.
If Fair Trade prioritizes those who are physically or economically disadvantaged, isn't that discrimination?

NH: Well, it might be discrimination that's gotten them in a disadvantaged situation in the first place!

Fair Trade provides development opportunities for people who are already in an unfavourable condition or circumstance. Which to me, usually means that they'll need more assistance than those who aren't in that position.

Yes - its difficult to define who needs help and who doesn't, there's lots to expand on with this issue - particularly when deciding whether to choose locally produced goods directly from the producer/farmer in your community as opposed to a 'Fair Trade' labelled item.

I think what's important is to advocate and lobby for those people/organisations/countries that don't have the ability to make themselves heard or who need assistance in making that voice a little louder to those who won't listen...

AP: Not at all -- many socially responsible business and NGOs hire disadvantaged people and "regular" people. Often through fairly trading groups and cooperatives, people work alongside each other. It's not discrimination -- groups that recruit or hire disadvantaged people (which studies show 80% of Cambodians are disadvantaged in some way) are tapping into a portion of the population that has been underrepresented until now. The populations of disabled people, for instance, have proven to be a reliable source of innovation and skill to the general workforce. It's only fair, after all, to include these marginalized and fully capable people.
How does Cambodia compare with other countries in developing Fair Trade practices?

AP: It seems that in gender equity, child labor and even environmental conservation standards, Cambodian NGOs and businesses 'fair' better than many countries. Cambodian groups clearly struggle for more transparency and accountability. However, until the Cambodia Fair Trade Forum gets more Cambodian participation, we won't know just how well or poorly Cambodia does in international Fair Trade standards!

NH: I have seen some fantastic examples in other developing countries of Fair Trade working very successfully for a long time. I think the Fair Trade slogan is relatively new to Cambodia. However the concept of 'Trading Fairly' has been the goal of many organisations in Cambodia for a quite a few years. Cambodia is catching up very quickly with the movement worldwide.
Who is working on Fair Trade in Cambodia?

NH: The Artisans Association of Cambodia has partnered with Traidcraft Exchange (Europe 's largest Fair Trade organisation) to implement many trading fairly practices into Cambodian businesses. This partnership is really at the forefront of trying to implement change - it's a fantastic project and directly influences more than 40 social enterprises across Cambodia.

There are of course many other organisations that are working on Fair Trade issues -- and if people want to learn more about them they can join the Cambodian Fair Trade Forum -- a conglomeration of individuals, businesses and NGO's working on Fair Trade.

AP: At the moment, they are Traidcraft, Artisans Association of Cambodia, Mennonite Central Committee and Village Focus International, as well as a few producer groups such as Rehab Craft and Baskets of Cambodia. We invite all advocates especially Khmer producers, students, businesses and NGOs to join our forum.
At the celebration you had both the public and a particular focus on producer groups. What are you hoping to achieve with them?

NH: The Cambodian Fair Trade Forum believed that the people who would reap the most benefit from learning about Fair Trade were the producers themselves. This was the first time an event such as this has happened in Cambodia -- so we wanted to start by educating those who needed it most -- and next year we're aiming at a wider audience.

AP: We hope they will see how important their skills, their ideas and their teamwork is to the socially responsible businesses and NGOs that employ them. We hope they and their employers will reflect on the necessity of teamwork and improving their adherence to the international Fair Trade standards of transparency and accountability, education, fair wages, etc.

Of course we hope to find more interested parties who will participate in the forum and future Fair Trade campaigns. Fair Trade differs from mainstream trade or free trade in that it prioritizes producers -- not consumers or middlemen. Thus, for our first World Fair Trade Day celebration, we wished to celebrate those who are already practicing Fair Trade principles and producers!
And you also had the general public. What are the main messages you want to get across to local and international consumers?

NH: That a global and local trading system based on respect for the environment and each others rights, responsibilities and fair working relationships is a very real and practical way for people to improve their lives and contribute to the development of their community.

We had a huge booth dedicated to stories of people working towards Fair Trade in all corners of the world, as well as highlighting the Fair Trade movement already happening in Cambodia. We hoped it was enough to get people interested and start asking questions about how they can contribute to 'Fair' change.
Part of your message involved commissioning Chapei player Kung Nei to do a special song on fair trade. How was it working with him? What was the reaction from your Khmer friends to the song?

NH: Everyone loved it! A lot of people said - it was a great way to have a very local aspect to the event.

AP: We (VFI) visited Master Kong Nai several times and spoke with his agent at Cambodian Living Arts NGO to discuss the meaning of Fair Trade and its 9 international standards. We thoroughly enjoyed our time speaking with Master Kong Nai because he understood the concept with great ease, asked thoughtful questions and gave us his impressions of what Fair Trade means in Cambodia. We observed that Master Kong Nai seemed particularly interested in this social and economic movement. Given that he is a smallpox survivor and has been blind since the age of 4, he had firsthand experience with the blatant discrimination that disabled artisans often encountered in the typical job market. We also chose Master Kong Nai and Sovanna Phum to perform because we wanted to highlight Cambodia's rich heritage of music and dance. This is also a Fair Trade principle--to value and preserve native cultures.
What's up with that giant Krama anyway? Whose idea was that?

AP: It came out during one of our first Forum meetings on World Fair Trade Day. Other ideas were to have a contest to design a symbolic Fair Trade product or to have a Fair Trade elephant or something (still not quite sure what the idea was!!) but we quickly decided utilitizing the versatile and beautiful kromar could show Cambodia's creativity, heritage and solidarity best in the World Fair Trade Day movements.

NH: It's modelled on the idea of making something that represents the community ideals of Fair Trade -- all of us working together. And the giant Krama idea was trying to make it as Cambodian as possible without being too much like a traditional American quilt.
How do you feel the day went? Now that it's all over, what's on the agenda next?

AP: Of course, we would always want to see as many producers as possible but many of them were working as they typically would on a Saturday or they lived too far from Phnom Penh to come to the celebration. Still, I think the event was 10 times better than it could have been and I'm proud of the Fair Trade Forum and the participating producer groups' efforts for making the day FUN. Now, I think we'll have to concentrate on reaching more Cambodian Fair Trade leaders, strengthening the Forum's goals and developing Cambodia's unique Fair Trade standards.

NH: All the organisers are meeting next week to discuss exactly that -- we want to keep the momentum going while we've got Ministers, International groups, NGO's and private businesses listening.
Can you say 'Fair Trade Trade Fair' three times fast?

NH: arhhhhh!!!! Fair Trade Tade Flair Flair Dade Tad Air.... was that ok?

AP: fairtradetradefairfaratde--shoo. I can't even type it!

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