30 Jun 2022

A Bridge to Connect Fairly – Five Takeaways from Fairtrade’s General Assembly 2022

Collaboration is crucial for fairness – and at Fairtrade this is reflected in the way we work and approach decision making. Our annual General Assembly, where producers and members from Fairtrade offices in over 20 countries gather to pave the way forward, is one example of this.

Last week in Nairobi we marked the first non-virtual General Assembly since COVID-19 hit. The week-long slate of meetings, exhibitions and discussions was hosted by one of our regional producer networks, Fairtrade Africa, and it was certainly one to remember. From Kenyan farmers sharing insights on their farms, to discussing the latest trends on transparency and climate, attendees left inspired and with a better understanding of how people across the Fairtrade system are working to make fairness the norm. Here are a few highlights:

1. Fairtrade producers are change-makers on the ground. But challenges remain.

Fairtrade General Assembly - Farm visits
Farm visit to Penta Flowers. They have been certified for 20 years.

We kicked-started a week of activities by visiting three producers in the region. This included Penta Flowers which has been Fairtrade certified for 20 years. As part of this, we had the chance to see their local library which was funded by the Fairtrade Premium. The library is open to everyone from all surrounding villages as well. They have also created a vegetable farm on land donated by the company owners, which grows diverse varieties of vegetables used in the canteen catering to over 1,400 workers.

In addition to sharing the positive impact of Fairtrade, farmers and workers also talked about the challenges that remain. Seeking greater market access, having long-term commitments with buyers, better prices, and pre-financing when it comes to switching to sustainable production are high priorities. These are challenges Fairtrade producers cannot solve alone.

2. Continue to leverage the power of transparency and data.

Fairtrade General Assembly - CEO Forum
Several actors across Fairtrade offices gathered in Nairobi to pave the way forward.

Later in the week, there was time to dig into issues which are shaping the present and future of supply chains. One of these is transparency and data.

"Understanding the impact of our work requires transparency and traceability, with the data to back it up. We unlock the power of Fairtrade supply chains with data-led insights that provide producers and companies with the tools to demonstrate Fairtrade’s impact and support learning,” says Sandra Uwera, Fairtrade Global CEO.

Echoing with the insights from both producer and commercial partners, we will keep building further on this area as we roll out the implementation of our 2025 strategy. This is critical for assessing our impact – such as through recent research – and continuously improving, but also having a proactive approach on reporting that will be required by upcoming legislation such as Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence.

3. Cross-sector collaboration is needed in the face of climate change.

Fairtrade General Assembly - panel discussions
We had the opportunity to discuss the latest trends shaping the present and future of trade. And how we step in.

Farmers are on the front line of climate change. For millions of farming families and communities worldwide, the impacts of climate change are a daily reality, and its challenges are too big and urgent to be tackled by individuals, or even by an individual organization by itself.

At Fairtrade we believe in the power of intentional partnerships and look forward to building further on our engagements with consumers, businesses, government, and civil society in this arena. We want to celebrate front runners while raising the bar for everyone across the sector, and boosting our efforts in advocacy and communication.

We believe farmers are integral in developing key climate solutions that can reverse environmental degradation and pave the way towards a more sustainable tomorrow. However, support – particularly in terms of finance – is critical. It is not fair for farmers to bear all the costs of switching to more sustainable production.

4. Individuals have power to build fairness.

Fairtrade General Assembly - Award
Dr. Nyagoy Nyong’o receiving one of the Fairtrade lifetime contribution awards

That being said, we all have a role to play – and a responsibility – when it comes to shaping a future that is fair for people and planet.

During the week, we also gave a lifetime award to two individuals who have had a critical role to take Fairtrade where it is today. These were Dieter Overath, founder and former CEO of Fairtrade Germany, and Dr. Nyagoy Nyong'o, former Fairtrade Global CEO, as well as former Executive Director of Fairtrade Africa. Their contributions have been key across the years and an example of the ripple effect each of us can have to embed social justice into the world.

During the last day we also had exhibitions from different Fairtrade producers across the region, who shared some of the ways they are driving change in their own cooperatives.

5. From consumers, to businesses, farmers and advocates: we are a bridge to connect fairly.

Fairtrade General Assembly - Group photo
Group photo after producer visits during the Fairtrade General Assembly

Considering the latest world developments and challenges ahead, it is crucial to remind ourselves of the role we have as a bridge to connect shoppers, businesses, farmers, activists and governments fairly. Sustainability-driven companies are showing that putting values first is good business, and we had a panel session between Fairtrade producers and commercial partners to discuss further.

We are all interconnected and we envision a world where everyone benefits from quality products and enjoys quality of life. No matter who you are, every time you buy a banana, or every time your business decides what to source, you play a role. The same applies if you need to decide how you farm, or even what messages or policies to stand for as a government representative, or an activist.

Instead of being a barrier to social justice, let’s make this connectedness a strength. Because we are connected, we can actually join forces to shape the future of trade.

Our last days in Nairobi have shown that much progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go. We call on all actors that were present - and beyond - to keep building on existing efforts to change the way trade works through better prices, decent working conditions and a fairer deal for farmers and workers.