A fair debate

The University of Wolverhampton is proud to hold Fairtrade status, and staff and students enjoy an array of tasty products on all of our campuses.

As part of our commitment to Fairtrade, we held a panel discussion covering a range of issues, chaired by BBC News presenter George Alagiah. The event was held to raise awareness of International Fairtrade Day and was organised jointly with the Wolverhampton City Fairtrade Partnership.

Going bananas

There are not many occasions when you can go to school dressed as a banana. But one of the pupils who attended the University’s panel discussion on International Fairtrade Day did just that.

Bananas are just one of the many products associated with the Fairtrade movement, which seems to be growing in momentum all the time. The Wolverhampton school pupils who attended the event are not only eating and drinking Fairtrade – they are also learning about it in their lessons.

Tackling the issues of the day was a panel of experts from Wolverhampton, which is a Fairtrade City. They were Dr Brian Shiplee, an expert in Environmentalism and Sustainable Development at the University; David Fulljames from Wolverhampton Fair Traid; and Charles Jackson-Houlston, formerly of the Wolverhampton City Council Sustainability Unit. Chairing the event was George Alagiah OBE, who has travelled the world as a Foreign Correspondent and now presents the BBC Six O’ Clock News.

Dean of Students, Jon Elsmore, said: “The University held a number of successful activities during Fairtrade Fortnight 2010 in March, and we aimed to keep up the momentum with a vibrant discussion to mark International Fairtrade Day.”

Topics under the spotlight included whether the large supermarket chains should be doing anything different to encourage people to buy Fairtrade products and what individuals can do to support the movement.

Panel chaired by George Alagiah

The University of Wolverhampton is proud to hold Fairtrade status, and staff and students enjoy an array of tasty products on all of our campuses. As part of our commitment to Fairtrade, we held a panel discussion covering a range of issues, chaired by BBC News presenter George Alagiah. The event was held to raise awareness of International Fairtrade Day and was organised jointly with the Wolverhampton City Fairtrade Partnership.

Having reported on civil wars in Afghanistan, Liberia and Sierra Leone and the plight of the marsh Arabs in southern Iraq, George Alagiah has witnessed the many challenges and troubles faced by people around the world.

“As a reporter covering the conflicts in Somalia or the genocides in Rwanda, or the earthquake in Haiti, I came to understand that economic empowerment is as important, or possibly more important, than political empowerment. When people have money in their own back pocket they have choices that we take for granted.”

During his time as patron of the Fairtrade Foundation, George visited a project in Nicaragua. The scheme was a particularly memorable one, as it demonstrated the additional impacts of Fairtrade, other than funding. The people of the community had used a Fairtrade premium they had received to buy a truck to transport coffee from the farm to a depot. As it was a communal truck, they held a meeting to decide if it could also be used to take the children to school.

George is a specialist on Africa and the developing world, and has interviewed figures including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan and President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. But the most memorable person he met was Nelson Mandela.

“When I sat next to him, what I remember most was not that he was the most famous man on the planet and that he had this impact on these people. It was that he was at peace with himself and that was really interesting. I asked him, ‘How do you not hate what has happened to you?’ He said, ‘I have taught myself to think through my brain, not through my blood’ and I thought that was very wise. He had applied his intellect and got to this place where he was at peace with the world. I think that was why he was able to bring together people with such opposing views.”

A Fairtrade future

But it is not just great leaders that hold the key to building a better future. At the panel discussion, University students sat alongside school pupils, and it is clear that issues such as Fairtrade interest and challenge young people.

George says: “As I have travelled around the world as a correspondent some of the greatest ills I have seen have been engineered by leaders or elders. I think we should not be scared of allowing young people to have a greater say. They may make better decisions than people of my generation and you do see that in the developing world – young people take more responsibility.”

When asked what individuals can do to support and promote Fairtrade, the panellists and the  audience had a range of interesting responses.

One person said we should buy lots of Fairtrade products, another suggested encouraging shops that don’t sell Fairtrade items to consider doing so while one of the panellists believed eating dark chocolate was one of the easiest ways of supporting the mission. But perhaps one of the school pupils summed up the simplest means of supporting and promoting the Fairtrade ethos.

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