activist notes

Report Back From the Third Annual Ethical Purchasing Policies Activist School by activistnotes

[I found this article on the Canadian Social Economy Hub’s website. If you’re interested, Patrick Clark and I wrote an in depth report on the Activist School which gives some more details, conclusions and outcomes. It is worth noting though that the Activist School, the events leading up to it and those immediately following it led the CSFTN to be dissolved and a new org to be formed called Equinomics. …Ian Hussey]

Report Back From the Third Annual Ethical Purchasing Policies Activist School
February 1-3, 2008 – Peterborough, Ontario

By Terrance Luscombe

The big question on everyone’s mind after the Ethical Purchasing Policies Activist School, hosted by the Canadian Student Fair Trade Network (CSFTN) and the Peterborough chapter of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG), was: What’s next?

After three days of presentations, breakout sessions, networking, and planning there seemed to be mixed feelings of apprehension, pessimism, hope, and determination. The Activist School, which took place February 1st-3rd, was the third annual convergence of the CSFTN. The organization is a broad-based student network that works towards greater awareness and presence of Fair Trade products and policies on
university and college campuses. The Activist School had a broad focus, including discussions of the student No Sweat movement and environmentally conscious food systems along with Fair Trade.

Fair Trade and the Inadequacy of the Ethical Consumers
The keynote speaker, Professor Gavin Fridell of Trent University, offered participants his account and critiques of the current Fair Trade movement in Canada and beyond. According to Fridell, the reliance on the affluent Northern consumers who have prospered through unfair trade practices and the broader unequal distribution of wealth are key factors that limit the usefulness of Fair Trade. The needs of producers are
subservient to the whims of consumers who are shielded from the effects of their purchasing decisions. Furthermore, large corporations that sell Fair Trade products do so while imposing a whole host of other abuses on producers, Northern workers, and the environment. Fridell suggested that some corporations have begun to push their own weaker certification programs to uproot Fair Trade from its market niche. With these critiques in mind, Fridell proposed that the ultimate goal of the Fair Trade movement should be to convince national governments to return to the international commodity agreements of yesteryear, guided by principles of fairness and equity.

Purchasing Beyond Fair Trade
The weekend saw several other presentations as well which presented innovative and alternative methods of production and consumption. Caitlin Peeling of the La Siembra cocoa cooperative presented on cooperatives and the cooperative organizational model. Reykia Fick of TransFair spoke about their current Fair Trade Towns campaign. Members of the Just Shirts Clothing Co-op highlighted the inequalities inherent within
the traditional manufacture and trade of clothing. Professor Jennifer Clapp, also of Trent, delivered a lecture entitled “Local Food Initiatives in a Global Context”. A whole host of other topics, from education and outreach to No Sweat policies, were also discussed in lively small group breakout sessions. As many of the student groups came from institutions with differing levels of institutional support for ethical purchasing policies, those students that had brought change to their institutions told their stories and offered valuable advice to those groups that continue to struggle for change.

The Next Steps
The purpose of the conference was not to merely discuss the pros and cons of Fair Trade. It was an Activist School after all, and as such, praxis was the point. Throughout the convergence the question of action arose often. Gavin Fridell suggested that merely buying Fair Trade products was not enough. Real change requires acting like a political citizen and considering which parties you vote for and how you can mobilize locally to
influence those parties. A common theme amongst the participants was an acceptance that institutional change was the important change whether it was a national government, a municipal government, a university, or a college. Institutional change can be daunting, and so strengthening the Canada-wide network is a must. Information-sharing and regular communication between different groups across the country is a difficult task within a country the size of Canada, thus the intermediate task of Canadian students working towards Fair Trade and other ethical purchasing goals is to maintain the network in order
for a nation-wide movement to emerge. If that happens, administrators and governments will have a much harder time ignoring our calls for justice.


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