'That's Not Fair!' - How Children Can Make a Change for Fair Trade

18/11/2011 00:10 GMT | Updated 17/01/2012 10:12 GMT

Young people in UK

It couldn't have been too long ago when you last heard a young child or teen huff, "that's not fair!" at you through an ironed fringe. But I wonder how long ago it was that you responded with a deep and humbling respect for the child's strong sense of justice.

"The thing is," said my colleague Joanna Milis, Fairtrade schools campaign manager, over a cup of coffee, "adults lose this sense of justice by becoming resigned too quickly to the fact that life's not fair." Get used to it? Not any Fairtrade school we know.

There are over 600 Fairtrade schools in the UK. Children make captive audiences to stories about injustice and suffering that can come with being a farmer in a developing country. Children's capacity for empathy is great and can be developed through sharing stories during one of the many visits that Fairtrade farmers make to schools around the country in person and virtually.

And the message to make trade fair doesn't usually just stay in the classroom. Young people, with their enthusiasm, thirst for knowledge and their smartphones almost surgically attached to their fingertips, are multipliers. Spreading the word influences friends', parents' and teachers' shopping habits.

The most difficult question that we face as an organisation is how to actually make change happen. Political change can only happen when there is the political space for leaders to act. And young people are increasingly going to be key to creating that space. Through this lens, young people can be viewed as powerful agents of change. See for yourself: Ringwood Town Council is consulting Ringwood School pupils on its Fairtrade policy.

School has changed a lot since I was there some 20 (odd!) years ago. And today Fairtrade is used by teachers in many curriculum areas to demonstrate real life application of issues; citizenship, geography, literacy, critical thinking and even in enterprise classes as an alternative business model. Joanna Milis and her team provide a framework in which to learn about Fairtrade, write resources, run events and teacher workshops on how to link Fairtrade with the national curriculum and the teachers, engaging the limitless imagination of the pupils, do the rest.

Young people abroad

Every parent wants better opportunities for their children whether in the UK or in Timbuktu. Who doesn't want their children to do better than they have done? For farmers living in poverty this is not always possible. Farmers cannot always afford to send their children to school or pay for basic healthcare and the cycle of poverty persists. These children grow up with no option but to work on the farm. And that is not fair.

Fairtrade gives parents the ability to provide their children with options: extra cash generated by Fairtrade sales is invested in schools, scholarships and clinics which benefit children directly. In Fairtrade farming communities young people are free to choose a career in farming - or - not.

Fairtrade farming has given many children back their childhood. Child labour on family run cotton farms in Mali was widespread until Fairtrade actively lobbied farming communities to take their children off the farms and put them through school. Mobiom is a Fairtrade cooperative of 8000 cotton farmers in Mali. Extra money generated from Fairtrade organic cotton has resulted in 95% of eligible children born of Mobiom farmer parents attending school. This compared with a national average of 43%.

Unlike parents in the UK, developing country farmers do not have an endless supply of supermarket vouchers for free sports and IT equipment in schools. Fairtrade farming has been able to fund a school bus, running water, computer and science labs, sports equipment and even playgrounds for children in the Windward Islands. To travel to school safely, to drink clean water, to exercise and play - now that's fair.

So next time you hear, "that's not fair Miss/dad/grandma", think twice. The young child or teen is probably already working on a solution.