Fairtrade and the slave trade abolition campaign
25th March 2007 saw the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British colonies. Many would say that this successful campaign was the very first mass political campaign of its kind. It is certainly true that many of the tools and techniques used over 200 years ago are still used today in campaigns such as that to promote Fairtrade. But as well as the methods used there other parallels to be drawn between the two campaigns.
It is interesting to note that the abolitionists used the message: “It is simply immoral that people should be allowed to suffer in order to provide us with luxuries such as tea, coffee and sugar” at a cheap price. Unfortunately that message is still true today and can be just as easily applied to the Fairtrade campaign. Many of today's campaigners believe that the present day unfair trading practices are a direct legacy of the past injustices of the Atlantic slave trade.
The abolitionist campaign was directed at the grass roots of the country in order to completely change the attitudes of the British public. Thomas Clarkson, the workhorse of the campaign, once rode 7000 miles on horseback in one year gathering signatures for their petition. The greatest strength of the Fairtrade Towns campaign is that it, too, reaches out to all parts of the community – its strength is in its amazing diversity.
There are now more than 350 Fairtrade Towns in the UK with similar initiatives in many other countries such as Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Australia and the USA. There is no doubt that the Fairtrade campaign is achieving great success. Perhaps the greatest inspiration that we can take out of the abolition campaign is that it worked. By changing the attitudes of the British public it took just twenty years to achieve its aim.
While 2007 was a year to celebrate the success of the abolition campaign, it’s also important to honour it by committing to bring about further change on trade injustice today.