Luton was officially launched as a Fairtrade Town in November 2011 celebrating years of proactive campaigning since the inception of the idea in 2004. This long journey of solid grassroots work led by Grassroots Programme and its partner organisation Luton Council of Faiths, has led Luton to be the first super multi-faith and multi-cultural Fairtrade town.
The work in Luton was highly commended by Harriet Lamb, Executive Director of Fairtrade Foundation, with her colleagues who came especially from London to encourage and congratulate Luton Town for its wonderful achievements and committed to share Luton’s good practice with the other towns. Luton was launched as the 528th town in the Country and Harriet said: “Congratulations to Luton for becoming the latest in a growing number of Fairtrade Towns across the UK. In just 15 years since the birth of the FAIRTRADE Mark, its popularity has rocketed, its simplicity and effectiveness have become widespread.
"But Fairtrade is more than a certification mark – it is an inspiration for change for which I thank all the Fairtrade campaigners who have been involved in this extraordinary grassroots movement. Through your tireless campaigning in Luton you have won the hearts and minds of consumers and business and helped Fairtrade sales across the town. With your help we can tip the balance in favour of some of the poorest producers in the world and we hope that with the continued growth in Fairtrade towns we will see similar successes across the UK and beyond."
The secret of Luton achieving Fairtrade status and gaining great national reputation was the community work model used which was diversity as a social capital and therefore used inter-faith work to gear people towards a common goal – Social Justice.
As Luton accomplished the 5 goals set by The Fairtrade Foundation, it received an excellent feedback from Adam Gardner, Campaigns Officer (Fairtrade Towns) who said, “The Luton Fairtrade Town campaign represents everything a Fairtrade Town should be. A truly cross-community effort of bringing people together locally, to make a difference globally. I'd been at the International Fairtrade Towns Conference 2011 in Malmo – Sweden. There are now 1,070 Fairtrade Towns worldwide and Luton's campaign would stand out amongst any of them”.
Apart from the various businesses using and serving Fairtrade products, Luton enjoys hosting the 1st Fairtrade Hindu Temple in the UK, 2 Fairtrade Mosques being second and third in the country, over 35 Fairtrade churches, the 2 Jewish Synagogues and the Sikh Temple also as Fairtrade places of worship. Recently, the University of Bedfordshire also got its Fairtrade status. The Luton Fairtrade Steering Group continues its work with schools. Achieving Fairtrade Town status has not been easy.
People question why they should spend more on Fairtrade products when there are cheaper alternatives. As faith carries much influence in Luton’s diverse communities, many have found answers and inspiration from their own respective religious traditions. They have discovered that Fairtrade is more than charity; it is a matter of justice - giving people their right to life lived with dignity.
During the Fairtrade Fortnight 2012, Luton had the privilege to host Tookie Bowman, a fair trade banana producer from Windward Islands. In one meeting, responding to a question “why should we buy Fairtrade if there is not much quality difference?”, Tookie said:
"When you see the FAIRTRADE Mark on a product, we are looking at two things; the fair price that is being paid and the social premium that can be spent on community initiatives.
"This is why I say The Fairtrade Foundation is an organisation with a heart; Fairtrade products have a little bit of humanity in it, so when you buy anything with the FAIRTRADE Mark on, you also buy a little bit of humanity".
“Making Luton a Fairtrade Town” Campaign has also successfully captured public attention in many ways.
During Fairtrade Fortnight 2008, at a Fairtrade promotional stall in Luton’s Arndale Shopping Centre, two white Catholic women, a Pakistani Muslim, an Indian Hindu, a devotee of Sri Sathya Sai, standing together with others of no particular faith, were an eye-catching sight for shoppers. One commented: “You all, from such diverse backgrounds, standing together, are promoting much more than just Fairtrade.”
Zafar Khan, Chair of Luton Council of Faiths, observes: “Our key partner, the GRASSROOTS programme, has helped create and sustain a platform for people to act together on issues of concern, and share from our respective faith traditions a passion for justice, which is why it is fundamental that we do support Fairtrade. I would personally like to thank all individuals and communities for supporting the Making Luton a Fairtrade Town.”
Fair Trade is an alternative approach to conventional international trade. It is a trading partnership which aims at sustainable development for excluded and disadvantaged producers in the third world countries. It seeks to do this by providing better trading conditions, by awareness raising and by campaigning.
A selection of images courtesy of Grassroots Programme and Luton Council of Faiths from Fairtrade events over the last couple of years are available to view below. Click here to see a bigger selection.