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Solidaridad’s Nico Roozen Shares What He’s Learned in 30 Years of Fair Trade

Nico Roozen seated a table with other men, speaks into a microphone.

This story is part of our live coverage of the inaugural Arrell Food Summit (May 22 to 24). The summit gathers some of the world’s eminent thinkers to discuss the future of food and agriculture.

Nico Roozen, speaking at the Arrell Food Summit, is the executive director of Solidaridad, a civil society organization aimed at promoting social responsibility in commodity supply chains, such as cotton, tea, sugarcane, gold, cocoa, coffee and so on.

Ethical purchasing is still a niche concept, says Roozen, comprising no more than 3 to 5 percent of any market. “But when we started 30 years ago, we started at zero percent.”

The general principle of fair trade is that prices have to say the truth of real costs. The three rallying values are fair prices (and premium pricing) for farmers, access to investment capital to encourage entrepreneurism and balanced supply chains that connect producers directly with consumers.

He’s disappointed that the fair trade movement has decided on the price issue and feels that the systemic issues are not addressed anymore.

“The reality is that we couldn’t convince the vast majority of our population to take this responsibility. I think 50 percent of western consumers are willing to pay a little bit more for products which are produced sustainably.”

Roozen’s personal conclusion, after decades of fair trade work, is that consumers are not the driving force behind the sustainability agenda.

“A limited amount of people are walking the talk, have sympathy, but they think it is the main responsibility of companies and governments. Not of consumers. So there is support. But the consumer will not be the change-maker. Voluntary certification has created awareness in these markets. But it is not a force of transformation of markets, to sustainable production. So governments have to take the role, to turn sustainability from voluntary schemes to mandatory frameworks.”