"Young and ethical consumers in the fight against world poverty" 15-19 March, Athens

Participants: Around 20.

Participating countries: The UK, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Albania, Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden, Malta, Romania, Serbia

The aim of this seminar was to inspire its participants to start consuming in a more ethical way, with a special concentration on Fair Trade. Fair Trade is a global movement focusing on improving working conditions and the economical situation for local farmers/workers in developing countries (Child labor, slavery etc.). The hosting organization was called Fair Trade Hellas, an NGO in Athens owning a small Fair Trade shop were it is possible to buy anything from clothing and soaps to chocolates and wines, everything with the Fair Trade certification of course.

In Karlovo (and in Bulgaria?) there is no such thing as a Fair Trade shop, which unfortunately makes things a bit more complicated. The shop is a very essential tool when advising people to start acting more ethical, since you need to bring them an alternative and say “Why don’t you make everyone a favor and start to buy these human/environmental friendly products instead?” In Karlovo, we can try to make people consume less, but we can’t, yet, bring them good, fair, alternative shopping possibilities.

In the seminar the topics of discussion were many, and most of the participants turned out to be experienced and active members of their represented organizations, some of them already with an alignment towards Fair Trade, and some of them working with somehow, more or less, related topics, like sports and theatre for all. One girl was, for example, acting on convincing university students that Fair Trade clothes can be as fashionable and cool as the regular ones. A Spanish girl had a theatre group in Berlin. A guy from Serbia was working with young biologists. And so on.

One thing was clear; we were all there to try to make the world’s economical balance more just, to take from the North and give to the South. The trainers were very patient with the discussions which sometimes seemed to go on forever: Is it right to use mainstream commercial to reach out with the Fair Trade message? Isn’t that to give in to the regular, exploiting, world destroying and unjust economical system? Why shouldn’t farmers in the developed countries also be able to be certified as Fair Trade producers? After all local handcraft/farming is the most environmentally friendly form on production.

Which kind of campaigning method is in the end the most successful one? Invisible theatre, living shopping windows, street stunts, information stands, graffiti? And once boycotting a company because of the way they treat the employees and the environment, is it okay to go back to consuming their products if the company actually makes its production methods more ethical?

And the final question: What is ethical consumption? This was a question harder to answer than it might actually seem, because besides all the obvious ingredients, like environmental friendliness and solidarity for workers across the planet, there came also the question of the word Trade. The world trade system is, to many, synonymous with ethical and economical exploitation, a system that has to be completely remade. But do we have the time to start right from the beginning when in 100 years our civilization might be completely exterminated? Or do we have to use this system the way it is today, try to use it to our advantage? Ignore peoples’ reasons for buying and producing Fair Trade, and instead be glad that at least they are buying and producing Fair Trade? Personally I am leaning more towards the latter. First of all we must save our people and our planet, after that all we can do is hope that it is not yet too late to start to help the people to change their mindsets and attitudes. It is absolutely not the best alternative, but, as I can see, it is the only one available at the moment.

In the end of the week, the workshops included more time for us to think about what we wanted to do, to make people in our surroundings act more ethical in their purchases. Many interesting ideas took form, like making a creative writing workshop about Fair Trade, creating a video with Fair Trade campaigns taking place in different countries but on the same day, making a local fashion show with second hand and Fair Trade clothes, collecting articles from all participants and make an electronic newspaper about ethical consumption, put pressure on schools and supermarkets to change their products into Fair Trade ones, and so on. In conclusion, the seminar worked as a great inspiration and was an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas and different point of views. Live today, but act for tomorrow.

 

Elin Brudin

Youth and Civil Initiatives in the Rose Valley