Bunyaad staff Jenni, Yousaf and Doug with four-year-old sidekick Nouraiz joined 250 other fair traders for the annual Fair Trade Federation Conference (FTF) in Del Mar, California from March 24-26. Since Bunyaad just joined the FTF a few weeks ago, this was our first FTF conference. Del Mar is just a short drive north of San Diego so we enjoyed the bonus of warm, sunny weather in addition to meeting many new fair trade friends.
Before the conference meetings started, we were treated to a very informative and entertaining tour of the Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap factory. Dr. Bronner’s has committed to sourcing fair trade and organic ingredients for all of its products and has an exemplary record of commitment to fair labor practices and protection of the environment. All of the employees we met spoke glowingly about the company. It was obvious that they enjoy working at Dr. Bronner’s. Before we left, a number of tour members got to hose down one of the Dr. Bronner’s employees with Magic Soap suds – one of the fun extra-circular activities used by Dr. Bronner’s to generate publicity. Dr. Bronner’s is a member of the FTF and the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), and, since their annual sales are approaching $100 million, they are one of the largest members.
Renee Bowers, FTF Executive Director, reported that the FTF is growing and now has more than 260 members. FTF members come from the USA and Canada and most feature fair trade handicrafts. Fair trade cafes and food sellers, like Level Ground Trading, Equal Exchange and Ben & Jerry’s, have been joining the FTF more recently.
The conference included plenary sessions, seminars and workshops and a Fair Trade Expo. Some highlights:
- Katy Leakey of The Leakey Collection talked about fostering women’s fair trade entrepreneurship amongst Maasai women in the Rift Valley of Kenya.
- Stacey Toews of Level Ground Trading delivered an inspiring talk about the joys, challenges and big victories in developing a truly sustainable fair trade business that stretches around the world. He challenged everyone to make sure that they get to know their suppliers well (artisans and farmers) and that they are concerned about more than just prices for products and commodities. His enthusiasm for and commitment to holistic and sustainable fair trade inspired everyone in the room to strive for renewed commitment to the principles of fair trade.
- Building trust through transparency: don’t be afraid to share your experience, business strategies and even business failures with others. Openness leads to trust with suppliers, staff, customers and competitors.
- Creating conscious consumers: build your business through advocacy and activism. Finding practical ways to spread your message by engaging in issues near and dear to the consumer.
- DIY intellectual property protection: Kevin Ward of Global Crafts shared a step-by-step process for registering a federal trade mark without hiring a lawyer. Practical and cost saving information for small fair trade businesses.
- Scaling up fair trade supply chains. Fair trade brands are growing quickly. How can fair traders scale up production while still keeping fair trade principles at the forefront. Representatives from Ben & Jerry’s, Catholic Relief Services and Dr. Bronner’s talked about working together with farmers to ensure that fair trade principles are kept strong even in a fast-paced growth environment.
- More than 50 FTF members, both retailers and wholesalers, exhibited their products at the Expo.
- Bunyaad rugs were prominently displayed and we were able to talk with a number of people who expressed interest in our work. Several retail stores asked about hosting a Bunyaad sale and we will explore further with them about future sales.
- Hundreds of fair trade products were exhibited – rugs, hats, jewelry, textiles, coffee, tea, soap and many, many more.
We learned a lot by listening to speakers, attending seminars and talking with fellow fair traders at the Expo. It felt good and was inspiring to be amongst a big crowd of people who run their businesses and organizations in a fair trade manner and truly believe that trading fairly can help to make the world a better place for artisans, farmers, traders, sellers and consumers – everyone!