Interview with Bruce Crowther, founder of the first International Fair Trade Town
Updated: Jul 23
Bruce Crowther established the first Fair Trade Town in Garstang, sparking a movement that now comprises of more than 2000 Fair Trade communities across the globe. He is also founder and director of The FIG Tree, the world’s first International Fair Trade Centre, founded in the world’s first Fair Trade Town, Garstang.
It was motivation and frustration at the current system that set the wheels in motion to establish the first Fair Trade Town. In 1984, I attended a workshop run by Oxfam and it was then I discovered that a child dies every three seconds from poverty. This is preventable and therefore totally unacceptable. This fact is still my greatest motivation all these years later and, even now, we still live in a world where a child is dying every three seconds from poverty. There can be no greater motivation to create positive systematic change than that. This issue alone encompasses all other social issues, including racism and climate change, as they all stem from poverty and inequality.
When Fairtrade was launched in the UK in 1994, the Fairtrade Mark grabbed me because it was a straightforward change and decision. You can make a difference to a person’s life by just changing your brand of tea and coffee. From this, we came up with the idea of giving Fairtrade Café Direct coffee to all faith groups in Garstang to encourage them to make the change. At first only half the churches took us up on the offer, which was disheartening—if we couldn’t get through to the faith groups then what hope did we have in reaching the rest of the community? By the year 2000, we were still incredibly frustrated. Even the local council said they didn’t use enough tea and coffee to make any change worthwhile, no matter how we emphasised how simple a change it was to make.
We set out to prove that Fairtrade tea and coffee tasted good, if not better, than non-Fairtrade, and also to prove that it wasn’t costly. Finally, we had an idea to invite local figures and businesses to a three-course meal made up of Fair Trade and local produce. This was the turning point. We didn’t ask them for anything in return, but simply asked them to sign a pledge to say they will support Fair Trade and local produce. With 90% of local businesses, all schools and all faith groups signing the pledge I had the idea that we could call ourselves a Fairtrade Town and at the Public Meeting that followed in April 2000 the people of Garstang made that historic declaration.
Garstang was suddenly on the international stage. I started to receive calls from broadcasting companies from all over the world, as far away as Australia, wanting to hear about the small town of Garstang. At this time, some didn’t even know what Fair Trade was, yet they wanted to know what the declaration meant and how to become a Fair Trade Town. Before becoming the Mayor of Seoul, Mr. Won Soon Park* visited Garstang to explore how Fair Trade Towns could be launched in South Korea and how Seoul could become a Fair Trade City. The impact is huge: if it can happen in the small town of Garstang, it can happen anywhere in the world. That gives people a lot of hope and inspiration. This is a positive message, particularly today, to not give up hope even if it looks like you’re up against a brick wall. It’s worth it in the end.
A people’s movement such as this must be led by the people. Individuals, communities, and businesses are the same thing, and that’s what makes the concept of a Fair Trade Town so fantastic, because it covers everything. Movements don’t need a strategy; people are doing it because they follow their hearts and their passion. If people want to focus on a particular issue and do something about it, such as supporting Black Lives Matter, then they should do it. If you think this is what we should be doing at this moment in time, in Bristol for example, then do it. That’s how these issues will be addressed. Those that support Fair Trade will naturally support the Black Lives Matter movement because they share common aims, to eradicate global inequality and injustice.
When we started our link between today’s Fair Trade campaign and the abolition of the slave trade over 200 years ago the message was simple. The old trading system was detrimental to people in West Africa but the new Fair Trade system can bring benefits. When people were advocating to abolish slavery, the message was that it is simply immoral that people should be allowed to suffer to provide us with luxuries at a cheap price. Isn’t that still the strongest message we can provide with Fair Trade? This message remains relevant now more than ever. Similarly, with the removal of Edward Colston’s statue, people aren’t erasing history, they’re making history. With the Black Lives Matter movement spreading, what we do now as a global Fair Trade movement is important now more than ever.
Regarding the focus on organic and local produce, the Fair Trade movement in Garstang started by joining fair and local produce together. The idea of Fair Trade, organic, and local shouldn’t be separated and many Fair Trade groups across the UK have taken on this issue as a goal to ensure that they are not separated. This is intertwined with the issue of climate change and how this is increasing global inequality. If we as a movement can help people to understand the interconnectivity of these issues, and how supporting one movement will help support many, then eventually we just may see an end to poverty.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Garstang being a Fairtrade Town. On the anniversary of the day we declared Garstang as a Fairtrade Town, on 27th April, we held a Zoom call uniting people from around the world who have played a part in the International Fair Trade Towns movement. I have come across amazing people within the movement from across the globe. We celebrated Fair Trade by sharing a virtual drink together; it was a great moment.
* With great sadness we report that Mr Won Soon Park passed away in July 2020. He was Seoul’s longest serving Mayor with an unprecedented three terms.
The international Fair Trade Towns movements connects communities across the world that are working to promote Fair Trade in their area. This year Bristol celebrates its 15th year as a Fairtrade City. Hear from individuals and organisations in Bristol who are helping to shape Bristol's fair and resilient future on what Bristol 15 years means to them, and why Fair Trade is more important now than ever before.