I don’t recall the first time I heard about Fair Trade. I have second-hand memories of dire instant coffee. Second-hand because I didn’t start drinking coffee till I was an undergraduate. By then the instant stuff had improved, though I’m committed to ground coffee these days.
When I worked at Church House, I became a Fair Trader. I couldn’t handle the fact that the tea and coffee in the staff cupboard weren’t fairly traded. So I took on bulk-ordering and paying up front for tea, coffee, and other products and selling them on. That was the way fair trade began, and it’s the way a considerable volume of fair trade continues: a network of small traders ordering and selling.
I took orders from around Church House, though not every department participated. In principle, I got a 10 per cent return because as a trader that was the discount Traidcraft gave me. For most traders that does little more than subsidise minor losses—take the risk with a new product that then doesn’t sell, you may be eating your way through out-of-date snacks for a while. (My dad was also a fair trader, running a weekly stall at the local market for about a decade. Overstocks were a thing.)
I’m reflecting back on all this because tomorrow (Tuesday) the University of Sheffield will be holding a Fairtrade Fair to mark Fairtrade Fortnight. The event was announced via staff email lists late last week, just prior to the start of strike action. It seemed jarringly strange. Hello? Have you not noticed? We’ll be on strike!
I spotted it again on Twitter today, amidst the stream of institutional tweets that purvey the general impression of “business as usual”.
For me, this was a perplexing situation. How do I reconcile my commitment to fair trade, to a fair wage for all, with my commitment to just returns for junior (and senior) university employees?
The answer, I hope, will be to redirect the visiting traders (waves at Beanies!) to the Student Union. Sheffield Student Union espouses clear ethical policies, stocks a decent range of fair trade products in its outlets and should (I believe) welcome the opportunity to celebrate Fairtrade Fortnight on this ad hoc basis.
Here’s to a just wage for all!
To the picket…