Fair trade advocate: ‘Fair Trade Town label brings a lot of marketing’

Ana Asti [Misereor/Twitter]

The fair trade of local goods can benefit local areas economically and socially. Now, as the Summer Olympiad arrives in town and the world watches, Rio de Janeiro seeks to be the next “Fair Trade Town”. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Ana Asti is a social scientist, entrepreneur, and consultant, and is currently involved in a project that intends to campaign to have Rio de Janeiro awarded Fair Trade Town status. Until May 2015, Asti was Latin America’s representative on the board of the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO).

Asti spoke with Nicole Sagener.

You’re preparing Rio de Janeiro’s application to be recognised as a Fair Trade Town. It would make Rio the first “fair” capital of Latin America. How did you manage to land such a big task?

I’ve been involved for a long time with promoting local products and how to create more markets for them. In 2001, I began work with the women of Rio’s favelas, trying to stimulate trade and production of local wares.

In 2009, I became chair of the WFTO and learned a tremendous amount about the Fair Trade movement. I’ve been all over the world: India, Hong Kong, Africa, Europe, trying to establish how we can strengthen local markets instead of just exporting all the time.

I also met Bruce Crowther, the founder of the Fair Trade Town concept in the UK. Crowther, who was a local Oxfam supporter, launched the campaign in 2001, in Lancashire, where the town of Garstang was given the first Fair Trade Town award.

What conditions have to be met?

Multiple objectives have to be made. Firstly, the mayor has to support the motion. Then a prospective town has to form a local steering committee, formed of different people from civil society, business, politics etc. In Rio, we had to make sure that at least 300 local retailers are selling fair trade products and that those wares are then being used in public facilities like schools, clubs and churches. This was feasible in a small part of the city that still has about a million inhabitants.

We also created new targets that are aimed at the local market, because we want to support local producers from all parts of the community, including the poorest, like the favelas. In these poorest areas, we especially train women to make products and then to sell these items outside of the favelas in local markets. This is happening more and more, so women are benefitting from better income and more self-confidence. We are working with food markets all around the region to this end.

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To get this Fair Trade Town status, a lot of actors have to all come together towards one common goal. How do you achieve this in a city of some 8 million people?

In April 2015, Rio’s mayor announced his support for the idea and our committee began its work. We brought together the already-existing network of the fair economy, producers, restaurants, NGOs and political representatives. As we lacked money, they helped us with communication and marketing, allowing us to spread our message through social media and our own website.

Economic solidarity is especially important in Brazil, where for more than 40 years we have asked ourselves how people can unite on matters of democracy, politics, economy and marketing. Lula da Silva, upon taking office in 2003, formed a national committee for economic solidarity that, among other things, promotes microcredit.

Since 2012, an extremely progressive law on economic solidarity and fair trade has been in place. It’s implemented by a public council, comprised of members of the community and civil society. We want to roll this model out in other cities and improve local markets.

The Olympic Games start at the beginning of August, just when Rio will be crowned with Fair Trade Town status. Will there be fair trade products for sale at the Games?

We have made contact with the Olympic committee, but it is proving difficult to sell local products at the Games, because of the issue of pricing. Fish, which will be sold at the Games, will come from Chile, because it is cheaper.

We are still awaiting confirmation when we can officially announce Fair Trade Town status. What is clear, however, is that we must give people in the poorest areas better nutrition and we must support local farmers. There are still many challenges, but also some success stories: Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay. In India as well, there is a growing local fair trade movement. This helps local development at every level. The Fair Trade Town label brings with it a lot of marketing.

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That word, marketing:  how is this ambitious project being financed?

The Fair Trade Town movement is a civil society initiative, which although being supported by the local authority, is not financed by it. I am the local government’s contact person for this project. My authority has lost two-thirds of its 30 employees over the last two weeks following the impeachment of President Dilma Roussef, after money for economic solidarity projects was curtailed. We are not sure how to proceed now.

In Germany, fair trade is a subject taught in more and more schools. Is it the same in Brazil?

At some universities, the concept is already taught, I myself are teaching it. But in schools there is still no curriculum for it. It would be useful. As Brazil no longer finds itself on the World Hunger map, the discussion about nutrition and obesity goes back and forth. Brazilian children lack knowledge about healthy eating. We could also change this by making sure more local producers can sell their healthy and sustainable foods on local markets.

Currently, Rio’s schoolchildren aren’t benefiting from regional products. With 1,100,000 school meals eaten every day, it’s difficult to meet the target of having 30% of them originate from small-scale producers.

In particular, transportation costs in the city are huge for small producers. But it can work: São Paulo, a city even larger than Rio, wants all its school meals to be made from local, organic products within the next seven years. If they work primarily with seasonal food it’ll be possible, because it’s not as expensive.

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The Fair Trade Towns campaign is the result of a grass-roots citizens movement that started in the UK in 2001. It allows citizens to get together in order to self-proclaim their town (or other local geographical area) as a region that complies with a few general Fair Trade criteria, that can be adapted from country to country but which retain their main elements.

In 2002, the Wales Fair Trade Forum, a network of development NGOs and Fair Trade campaigners, began working to make Wales the world's first Fair Trade country, a status it achieved in 2008.

The EU supports and recognises the added value of Fair Trade as contributing to sustainable development. The European Commission confirmed in 2009 that it supports Fair Trade as a tool for sustainable development. It also agreed with the Fair Trade movement's view that Fair Trade is better in the hands of the movement.

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