Norfolk, VA was the stage of a two day Fair Trade Festival this past weekend, December 5th and 6th. Continuing an eight year tradition, the festival was presented by Festevents and International Humanities Center. The Festival showcased dozens of local fair trade vendors ranging from pottery and jewelry to chocolate and wine.
The International Labor Rights Forum was among those tabling at the festival but instead of selling things we were giving away knowledge about fair and just trade. Many festival goers were surprised to see that the table that Trina Tocco, ILRF’s Deputy Director, and I were sitting behind was full of free pamphlets and posters detailing the ILRF’s “Sweatfree World” campaign as well as the “Stop Child and Forced Labor” campaign. As Trina and I explained to on-lookers and those who stopped by to grab a poster, the information and opportunities for action that we had to offer helped to hit home the ideas and concepts behind Fair Trade as well as remind shoppers that Fair Trade is more than just a label; it has global implications. People were often shocked to hear what we had to say about the cocoa and cotton industries. Among the most popular give-aways were the 2009 Shop with a Conscience Consumer Guide, the 2009 Chocolate Company Scorecard, and the cocoa campaign poster from the ILRF’s Child Labor Poster Series.
Trina explained to the group the basic supply chain model, explaining how one item of clothing will actually touch, on average, 23 hands before you buy it from your local retail store. She also explained how governments on all levels, local to national, have contracts with suppliers of everything from police uniforms to computers, that are used to supply services to the public. It is at this level that real change can be made, the goal being to pass a policy stipulating that the city/county/state will no longer buy products from companies that use sweatshop labor. Back at the festival we encouraged shoppers to sign postcards, supporting a local sweatfree campaign, which would be mailed to the Mayor of Norfolk. They stated, “I don’t want my tax dollars to support sweatshops,” and “I urge you to join the new State and Local Government Sweatfree Consortium.” When explaining the postcards to interested individuals, many people were very surprised to hear that governments buy from companies using sweatshop labor and enthusiastically signed the cards, sometimes asking if they could get involved in the local effort.
The end result of the ILRF’s involvement in the festival was an increased understanding of what Fair Trade really means and implies and how it is linked not only to the rights of small farmers but to labor rights more generally. This festival has taken place for eight years in a row now and hopefully our presence this year will encourage, what seems to be an interested population, to take action and help the Virginia Sweatfree movement to continue to grow and spread.If you’d like to have ILRF visit your place of worship, school, or community group, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to make arrangements.
To read more about the festival, check out these local newspapers’ websites: