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Local Fairtrade Case Study - the Westray Experience

What are the benefits of Fairtrade? They are “overwhelming and measurable”, according to Iain Macdonald, Chair of the Westray Fairtrade Group.

Westray and Papa Westray were the first islands in Orkney to be awarded Fairtrade Island status in 2007. Iain describes how Westray achieved this, the reasons for doing it and the many benefits it has brought.

What did you have to do to get Fairtrade Island Status?

We formed and constituted the Westray Fairtrade Group, drew up a Fairtrade Charter and started approaching businesses, workplaces, community groups and other organisations to see if they would be willing to sign up and to let them know how they could go about it. We also organised (and continue to organise) various events to raise awareness including a gourmet meal night, fashion show, wine tasting etc, as well as encouraging schools, churches etc to go for Fairtrade Status.

What were your main stumbling blocks?

There weren't many - most folk were keen to take part. There's always the occasional question about whether this competes with buying local but it's so easily answered that it's not been a real problem.

Some folk are also a bit sceptical about the benefits, but there's so much overwhelming and measurable information available about the benefits Fairtrade brings for food producers and farmers in the developing world. In my experience almost everyone who listens to the arguments sees the value.

Kester Chiwalo, a Fair Trade tea estate manager from Malawi, visited Orkney in 2012 and talked about his experiences of the on-the-ground impact Fairtrade has had on local tea producers. That made a big impact on a lot of folk as well.

We used to hear some people question the quality of fairly traded produce, but I never hear that now. Folk are increasingly aware that most Fairtrade certified products are of a high quality.

What do you think are the main benefits of Fairtrade?

Choosing fairly traded produce when you have that option is so simple a step to take that it's absurd not to do so. It's not going to change the world, but it's taking a small but surprisingly effective step in bringing about significant change in the lives of many people who live in abject poverty. The Fairtrade movement has transformed the lives of people in many of the world's poorest communities by raising living standards and helping to develop practical essentials like health care and education. It's essentially about offering a fair return to farmers and other producers for goods that can't be produced locally.

Has having the status brought any benefits to Westray?

Apparently so. According to folk in the tourism industry, especially the accommodation providers and caterers, they have specific interest and enquiries - even bookings - because of the Fairtrade Island status. It’s not the main purpose, but it’s welcome that there's a financial spin off for local businesses. I also think it's nice for a community to be able to hold its head high and say "we're at least trying to do something". It's hard to measure that kind of benefit, but it’s real – and it can be seen and heard in our two communities.

What would you say to the people who think that Fairtrade cannot work hand in hand with local businesses and producers?

They're wrong! This is why we have a wide representation of local businesses and producers on our steering group. On one hand, almost all the imported Fairtrade certified products on sale here are things that can't be produced locally - coffee, tea, cocoa etc. On the other, there are actually many businesses in this country (from brewers to bakers and candlestick makers - quite literally), that are thriving by producing a finished product using fairly traded ingredients, which is certified as fairly traded. We're very proud that a chutney and jam business in Westray looks like it will be the first Orcadian firm to gain full Fairtrade certification.

There's also a myth out there that local farmers are unlikely to support the Fairtrade movement. Farmers are better placed than most of us to know how important it is to get a fair price for their labour and when they realise that Fairtrade is no threat whatsoever to them, they're as likely to support it as anyone - possibly more so having a greater understanding of what it actually means to be a producer, albeit in a developed country.

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