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Fair Trade for Culture

Dr. Keith Nurse, Chairman of CaribbeanTales was recently interviewed by UNESCO Germany, in collaboration with the Berlinale Film Festival on fair trade in the cultural sector.

The concept of fair trade has become an integral part of the food and textile industries, established to combat poverty and inequality. Yet, inequalities also exist in the cultural sector and creative industries, particularly between countries of the Global South and the Global North. The German Commission for UNESCO has therefore launched the “Fair Trade for Culture” initiative.

In 1988, Fairtrade sold its first fair traded coffee from Mexico, the so-called Max Havelaar, in Dutch supermarkets. Max Havelaar is a fictional character who fought against the exploitation of coffee pickers in the Dutch colonies.

Havelaar evolved into a global movement, aiming to reduce poverty by promoting fair trade conditions and strengthening disadvantaged producers, as well as promoting the autonomy and self-determination of people and communities. Fair trade standards include social, economic, ecological and ethical criteria, which have to be followed by producers and traders.

While the fair trade concept has mainly been applied to the agricultural and textile sectors, it is also highly relevant for the culture and creative industries, especially in the context of globalization and digitization. Creative and cultural workers are confronted with structural inequalities. Living wages, freedom of movement and access to international markets are not yet a reality for many creators and creatives worldwide. Therefore, it is key to promote fair trade in cultural services, goods and intellectual property as well as sustainable value chains.

Imbalanced share in global exports of cultural goods

The value of global exports of cultural goods has increased in recent years, but their share remains imbalanced and is insufficiently diversified. According to the UNESCO 2005 Convention Global Report 2018 “RE I SHAPING CULTURAL POLICIES”, only 26.5% of exports account for countries of the Global South and only 0.5% for the Least Developed Countries.

Promoting a balanced flow of cultural goods and services as well as the mobility of artists and cultural workers is highly relevant, as stated in the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. These goals are closely linked to the implementation of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, including the Sustainable Development Goals “8: Decent work and economic growth”, “10: Reduced inequalities” and “16: Peace, justice and strong institutions”.

Article 16 of the 2005 UNESCO Convention calls for “preferential treatment” of cultural practitioners as well as cultural goods and services from the Global South. In order to overcome existing inequalities, industrialized countries with strong economies in particular should develop and implement policies to reduce existing trade barriers, promote the mobility of cultural workers and facilitate access to international markets.

Specific challenges in the cultural and creative sectors

There are similarities and differences between the food, textile and cultural sectors. Living wages remain a central concern for the fair trade movement. There is still a strong need for improvement of working conditions. Furthermore, in all three sectors, both producers and consumers need to rethink their positions.

At the same time, there are a number of unique aspects of the cultural and creative sectors. Trade mechanisms and flows are complex, since for example intellectual property and the mobility of artists and cultural professionals play an important role. In addition, the distribution of cultural goods and services increasingly takes place in digital networks, leading to a transformation of the value chains. This requires tailor-made policy approaches. Furthermore, there is a lack of transparent data on value chains in the cultural and creative industries.

Importantly, cultural goods and services have both an economic and a cultural value. A consumer’s choice often does not depend primarily on the price, but on other aspects such as artistic quality or individual preferences.

 A message from Dario Soto Abril, CEO Fairtrade International

An initiative for fair and sustainable trade in the cultural sector

The German Commission for UNESCO is the national contact pointfor the UNESCO Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and coordinates the nationwide coalition for cultural diversity. It accompanies the implementation of the 2005 UNESCO-Convention in Germany.

With the initiative “Fair Trade for Culture”, the German Commission for UNESCO is promoting fair and sustainable trade of cultural goods and services as well as the mobility of artists and cultural workers. The initiative aims at identifying good practices and creating a platform for international actors from the fair trade movement and the cultural and creative sectors.

In December 2018, the German Commission for UNESCO invited international experts – policymakers, researchers, entrepreneurs and civil society organisations – active in the areas of culture and fair trade to reflect on how to apply the concept of fair trade to the cultural field. At the “Fair Trade for Culture” experts meeting in the UNESCOCreative City of Music Mannheim, the following questions where discussed:

Which aspects of the fair trade movement, certification practices and strategies for sustainable value chains can be transferred to cultural goods and services? What are specificities of and challenges for the cultural and creative sector? What can be learned from theory and practice?

The results were presented to and discussed with representatives of the UNESCO member states at the 12th meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee of the 2005 UNESCO Convention at UNESCO in Paris.

Expanding international cooperation and strengthening alliances

The events in Mannheim and Paris proved the importance of fair and sustainable trade in the cultural sector. They moreover revealed that implementing international fair trade standards for cultural goods and services is more complex than it is for agricultural and textile products.

In order to strengthen the fair trade approach in the cultural sector, cooperation across various sectors at the national, bilateral and multilateral level should be improved. Standards and criteria for fair and sustainable trade should be developed and the transparency of value chains should be increased, for example by collecting and evaluating data.

Raising awareness for fair trade and production is indispensable. Public relations and educational work should target consumers, cultural workers and creative people as well as policy makers and businesses.

Part of the initiative is a multi-year cooperation (2018-2020) with the Institute of Cultural and Media Management at the Hamburg Academy of Music and Drama and the Office for Cultural Policy and Culture Industries in Bonn. In order to reach out to actors in different cultural sectors such as film, literature and music, workshops will be organised in cooperation with festivals and fairs, as “Berlinale Talents”, “Frankfurter Buchmesse” or “WOMEX”.

Talents Footprints

The workshop “Talents Footprints” will take place on Thursday, February 14, 2019 from 5 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. at HAU3 in Berlin as part of the Berlinale Talents 2019.

The Talents will examine the concept of “Fair Trade for Culture” and discuss with Dr. Keith Nurse (World Trade Organization Chair, University of the West Indies) how the cultural sector and especially the film industry can become more sustainable.

The workshop is a cooperation between Berlinale Talents, the Federal Foreign Office and the German Commission for UNESCO.

UNESCO Publication: 2005 Convention Global Report (2018)


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