Fairtrade fortnight

March 4, 2009

It’s been a manic week and a half of late, but now that the fuss is over, I can get back to my little retreat of blogging

We’re in the middle of Fairtrade fortnight now, and today has seen the positive announcement that Cadbury’s Dairy Milk has committed to going Fairtrade. The fact that this is such a prominent chocolate bar, shows their intentions and should do much to promote Fairtrade.

Around this time last year Tate & Lyle announced that they would become the biggest UK company to carry the Fairtrade certificate when it brought all its sugar into line with Fairtrade ideals.

It’s great to see these companies use their large volume of change to make a genuine difference in people’s lives, although it would be great if they didn’t have to wait until Fairtrade fortnight to launch their proposals.

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Ethical Shopping

January 2, 2009

Something I feel very strongly about is the issue of Ethical Shopping. Simply, I divide it up into two areas – Fairtrade and Local

Fairtrade
Fairtrade is the only logo on a product that guarantees a fair price for the worker in the developing country. This means that not only by buying Fairtrade products are you guaranteeing a fair price for the worker but it also means that when you buy a product that isn’t Fairtrade, you may be giving money to a company who pay poor wages to workers who do long hours in poor conditions.

Fairtrade gives the coffee bean harvester maybe 4 times the wage of a non-fairtrade worker doing the exact same job. This extra money is then circulated in the local community. So the farmer is able to spend his money supporting his local butcher or crafts person. Fairtrade also take money and set it aside for community funds which are ploughed into schools, training, industrial technologies, sanitation.

How we can help
Buy Fairtrade goods (common ones are coffee, bananas, tea, rice, clothing)
Encourage others to do the same
Ask at the places you shop in if they have a Fairtrade alternative 
– Does your church, university, workplace use fairtrade products? Lobby them

Local
Never underestimate the power of those in education. Around a year ago we were studying the reunification of Germany. We were told that when East and West became one again, those in the East started to buy Western basics, such as Bread, Milk, Eggs. It wasn’t that they were cheaper, or even better, there was just this notion that it would be a luxury good coming from the land of capitalism. This had a huge knock on effect to the East German farmers and producers. Productivity in the region went down, unemployment went up, which was a disaster for an area struggling to cope with the introduction of a free market. So pretty soon the East Germans twigged on. Their buying products from the West was having a negative impact on the East’s economy.
And so I wondered about my own consumer habits. What good am I doing to the Northern Irish economy (let alone the environment) by buying a Broccoli from Spain, when there are plenty of local ones in season? Who exactly benefits when I buy bread from Ayrshire and not from Armagh? An increase in local produce being bought, means more jobs in agriculture, production, retail. It also means more graduate jobs – A successful local business needs people with degrees in marketing, advertising, web design, business. We don’t need to lose all our best graduates to England, if only we would contribute more to our local economy.

Buying local goods, inevitably means buying in local shops. In the past 15 months, I have shopped in Tescos once. I prefer instead to go to local shops, individual traders if possible, though often circumstances mean I end up in smaller supermarkets. Stillsupermarkets perhaps, but with a greater range of local options (e.g. Linwoods, who don’t supply to the mega chains, and Ballyrashane creamery). I like to shop at Glass’s – A stunning fruit and vegetable shop in Bushmills, with a real mouth watering selection. And is it more expensive? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. Why would a sack of spuds from McCurdy’s at Portbradden cost more to bring down the road than potatoes from the south of England which have had to be transported on a truck and a ferry to get here (losing days of quality on the way)? With local food, you pay for quality, not for distribution costs.

That’s not even going into the sub-ethical business model that the big supermarkets are often accused of (demanding exclusivity, ordering more stock than they need but only paying for what they take, demanding double the order at the same price to allow for a 2 for 1 offer and many many others)
I worry. I worry that if I’m allowed to get old and if I’m still in this country, I won’t have any good local butchers or greengrocers to shop in where I can contribute to my local economy, where I can get personal friendly service, where I can get food that tastes better, where I can buy as much as I need (you try buying for one!).

I feel the Supermarket is stealing our community, and I want it back.

How we can help
– Read the label, find out where it is from and buy local goods and produce where possible
– Try the difference between the ‘freshness‘ on offer at your supermarket than that at a greengrocers
– Try the difference between the ‘taste‘ on offer at your supermarket than that at a butcher’s

 

Further Reading
http://www.100milediet.org/
Blytham, Joanna; Shopped – The shocking truth about British Supermarkets (2004 ed available on Amazon for a penny!)


The Dispassionate Student

December 2, 2008

Students have a history of making a stand, and making a difference. In 1941 the White Rose movement was formed by students in Munich, making a defiant stand against the Nazi Regime. The chain of events leading to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 were started by peaceful student demonstrations. In 1967 the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA)was formed, spurred by Catholic Students who were benefiting from the free education that had come into Northern Ireland in 1947 under the new ‘Welfare State’ and who were now disenchanted with discrimination from local authorities. The Tiananmen protests in China, culminating in the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 came off the back of students dissatisfied with the Chinese method of governance. Around the same time in Europe, students were holding pro-democracy protests in Soviet states, which can be argued to be a catalyst for the rapid downfall of communism.

Yet where is the passionate student today? Last year, a protest organised against fees was held at Stormont. Some 30 students bothered to turn up. Not so long again at the University of Ulster, Coleraine (UUC), the Union General meeting attracted only 40 people, though this was twice as many as the considerably larger Jordanstown (UUJ) campus. Talk about issues of Fairtrade and the student is interested in change, but only if someone else will do it for them. Speak about poor parking facilities, and the threat of doing away with Sunday train services for which many students on this campus rely on, and there are complaints, but no action.

It disheartens me to see a vast number of young people here, affected by various issues but so dispassionate and apathetic that they don’t want to see anything changed. Maybe it all comes back to selfishness? Why bother campaigning if by the time we have change I won’t be here any longer? Why lobby on Fairtrade if all it does is ease my conscience a little?
 
Today seemed different though. The Students’ Union organised a protest against Fees. At the minute in Northern Ireland, tuition fees stand at £3,145 per annum, the maximum which Universities can charge. There is a short term proposed move to increase this by £80, to help ‘deal with inflation’. On top of this, Sir Reg Empey, leader of the Ulster Unionists is calling for a removal of the cap, meaning that Universities could charge as much as they like. This would lead to an increase to £5,000, £10,000, £20,000…who knows. Ultimately it would weed out the last remaining students from low-income families, and ensure that our institution-educated people are those people who come from middle class backgrounds.

The Bible talks about campaigning for the poor, lobbying for justice.
Isaiah says;
“Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”
(1v16-17)

He goes on to say;
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”
(58 v 6)

Ultimately the majority of students are not coming to protest because of any God-given command, but I was shocked to see the numbers who started arriving from 12.30 in the Students Union, ready to make their voice heard

Why? The increase is unlikely to effect us, especially for those of us who are in our last year, it’s more for those teenagers who will be coming to Uni in the years to come. And yet students wanted to speak for those who couldn’t speak. Students wanted to stand up for their brothers and sisters who would be coming to University after them, and didn’t want them to be labelled with an even bigger financial burden.

There were probably around 150 people gathered in the Students Union building. Councillors Billy Leonard (Sinn Fein) and Barney Fitzpatrick (Alliance) spoke well and passionately. Their calls for students to continue to be active, and to hold politicians accountable (all 5 major parties in Northern Ireland committed to a removal of students fees in 2004) were greeted with loud cheers.

Followed thereafter a march from the Students Union building to the Central building. Shouts and chants were heard. Upon entering the front entrance of the University, these grew louder. Classes were disrupted. Students and staff stopped to watch. Security men stood on the steps of the stairs.
“What do we want?”
– “No Fees”
“When do we want them?”
– “Now!”

We all sat down on the floor, the local photographer clicking like crazy, the media students grabbing their soundbytes for their voxpops as the chants continued, growing louder. The Site VP tried to make a speech but could barely be heard above the racket.

I was in awe. Here were students, doing what students do best. Having their voice heard. Making a stand, against perceived injustice.

The Assembly should be listening. The University should be scared. And I think they were. The poor security chaps didn’t seem to know what to do. As I made my way up the stairs for the class I was late for, I was grabbed on the arm and told I could not do so, that I wasn’t allowed up there with a sign (which was a mock of a Father Ted protest). When I went round and used the lift, there the little bald man on an ego trip was again, having cleverly scented my devious plan. In the end, my class was cancelled, presumably due to the Lecturer being unable to have herself heard as the deafening roars continued.

If we students ever realise the potential to change the society we live in, the world will be an exciting (for some) and scary (for others) place.

I am a happy man. The Revolutionary Student isn’t dead. He’s just having a break