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Fairtrade isn't just a guilt free cup of coffee

Monday 02-03-2015 - 09:58

Fairtrade isn't just a guilt free cup of coffee. It goes to the heart of our values as a student movement. Take the pledge to sell one more Fairtrade product this Fairtrade Fortnight.

We all know that buying Fairtrade is a good thing to do. But too often, I think we do it out of guilt rather than anything else. It’s as if we buy these things to make ourselves feel better – going home with our shopping, safe in the knowledge that we’ve done the right thing, and haven’t given our money to the baddies.

This makes sense. Wanting to avoid companies which exploit their workers is understandable, and important. But I think there’s a much more exciting way to think about the potential of Fairtrade.

This Fairtrade Fortnight, I want students’ unions to stop worrying about how they can be less bad, and start getting motivated about how they can do more good. Rather than fixating on avoiding the bad ethical practice of some companies, we should start celebrating the positive impact of what proper wages and good working conditions can have on communities around the world.

And make no mistake – Fairtrade really does makes a difference. I’ve seen it for myself.

I was lucky enough to visit the Indian community of Kantamangie last year. This is one of the communities from which our clothing company Epona source their Fairtrade cotton. And it was clear – this isn’t just about a principle of fair pay. The minimum price guarantee and Fairtrade premium makes a real life difference to the whole community – from providing the opportunity for education, to something as fundamental as safe access to drinking water.

Students’ unions spend about £5 million on university branded clothing a year. Imagine the difference we could make if that was all Fairtrade. We could triple our positive impact.

That’s why I want students’ unions to take a pledge this Fairtrade Fortnight. I want all of you to commit to selling just one more Fairtrade product in 2015. It could be clothing, bananas, coffee, or chocolate – whatever you like, but something you don’t already sell. Will you do it?

NUS has a proud history of reflecting our values in our commercial activity. It’s important to us that our trading practices are as much a force for social good as our campaigning. But we always can do far more. Communities like Kantamangie currently only sell 1 per cent of their cotton as Fairtrade, for example. Clearly, there’s still a huge distance to cover.

Remember, buying Fairtrade isn’t just about avoiding bad practice. It’s about supporting and developing the things which we fight for as a student movement: collectivism, access to education, gender equality, and stronger communities, to name only a few. And just as we campaign for these things on our campuses across the UK, the choices we make with our wallets can make positive contributions to the same struggles around the world. 

That’s what Fairtrade means to me. It’s not there to provide a guilt-free cup of coffee. It’s a core part of the values system which flows through our entire movement, and we should be proud to support it. Take the pledge with me today.

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