Following on from the success of the first three Fair Trade International Symposiums held in Montreal (2002 and 2006) and Montpellier (2008), the 4th symposium was held at Liverpool Hope Business School on 2nd-4th April 2012. For this 4th edition, the symposium also integrated the final conference of the EU-funded “GeoFairTrade” project.
The question that was explored during the 4th Fair Trade International Symposium was: how can Fair Trade concretely connect producers and consumers, as well as other stakeholders, along fair and sustainable supply chains? As the Montpellier symposium explored, Fair Trade has known an unprecedented growth and mainstreaming over the last decade, translating into dramatic increases in sales and public awareness. However, many questions remain for both practitioners and academics about the potential of Fair Trade to continue growing, whilst at the same time, achieving its aims of transforming globalisation.
A specific question in this debate concerns the ability of Fair Trade to grow and institutionalise without increasing the distance between the different stakeholders involved, especially between producers and consumers. Indeed, one of the primary promises of Fair Trade was to better (re)connect (ethical) consumers and (small-scale) producers through fairer and more sustainable value chains. It has been suggested that certain developments in terms of certification and mainstream trading practices have increased, rather than decreased, the distance between consumers and producers – for example, by including non-producer-owned businesses such as plantations and by imposing barriers that may disable the participation of the most marginalized producer groups.
On the other hand, one may point at recent developments which have tried to bridge the gap, not only between producers and consumers, but also within these groups, as well as with various stakeholders linked with the Fair Trade field. The increased participation of producers in the governance of international Fair Trade institutions, the emergence of national and continental networks in both the South and the North, the development of producer-led certification schemes and the connection of Fair Traders with local (North or South) trading systems are a few of the many initiatives designed to intensify global connections. The development of ethical tourism has also enabled producers and consumers to meet, thereby creating concrete North-South links. Finally, one of the most recent and innovative devices enabling direct North-South connections has been the implementation of specific traceability systems. A recent and promising example of such systems is the GeoFairTrade project, which will be presented as a core element of the symposium. Based on geo-localisation, GeoFairTrade aims to trace products from the market place to their origin to bring producers and consumers closer and to reinforce the latter’s motivation for purchasing.