26 February 2016
Thomas sent 300 chocolate wrappers to Nestlé to persuade them to use fair trade cocoa beans. And that was just the start.
I'm a student. I study history and French at the University of Chester, but I also volunteer for projects on fair trade, human trafficking and ethical consumerism. My auntie was responsible for the Traidcraft stall at church – we've always used fair trade tea and coffee within my church. I became interested in fair trade projects at a conference about trafficking within the chocolate industry, when I realised that fair trade was one of the best guarantees to make sure that people hadn't been trafficked to make our little bars of chocolate.
My days are always extremely varied, no one day is ever the same. Every day, regardless of where I am, as soon as I wake up I go through my emails, and then have a flick through to see what I have to do that day. I normally do that when I'm still in bed and before I've had breakfast.
I work with schools, so I'll go in and deliver some workshops or assemblies, or some lessons on fair trade, or to get them to work towards the Fairtrade Schools Award. I'll help teachers find funding if they've got a project they want to do and I'll meet with companies trying to launch new fair trade products to see if we can be innovative and help them get off the ground. At the moment I'm working with a company that has launched a fair trade school blazer and so we're looking to see if that's something we could incorporate into schools in our town or borough.
I'm often asked by different groups to give talks in the evening and I sometimes speak to local community groups; the Women's Institute might ask me to go along to speak, and often at religious festivals they're keen to have somebody there talking about fair trade, human trafficking, and ethical consumerism.
When I'm talking with adults I have to debunk some common misconceptions about fair trade or human trafficking. It's quite easy to think that there is a wicked man who comes along, steals a child, and forces them to work for the harvest, but in reality it's much more complicated. Often parents have agreed to the child going with someone else because they are deceived by the traffickers who sell a dream of a better education for the child – that they will work, but they will never go without, they'll have clean clothes and running water. It must be a heart-wrenching decision, but it's understandable to see why that decision might be made; so I'm sure it's important to put it in context.
We're always trying to get people to use fair trade tea and coffee, but in the middle of all that we want to show people the variety of fair trade products available. Often at community events we'll set up a mock hotel room with fair trade bedding, roses, toilet roll, and snacks – everything you could possibly imagine. I think people are usually surprised that fair trade isn't just about a bar of chocolate and some tea bags.
One of my main goals is just to show that variety, but also to show people that they don't have to spend more money to buy fair trade. There was the perception that fair trade was going to be more expensive, but I've found that many of the products that were available and had certification from the Fairtrade Foundation were of a much higher quality and people were paying more for the quality, rather than that it was certified by the FTF. People assumed that that meant that fair trade was much more expensive and my work is to show that that's not the case.
I'm fortunate in that both my school and the people who have mentored me have always tried to ingrain in me a sense of what is right, to stand up and do the right thing, making sure that you're heard, regardless of how many people are listening or telling you that you're wrong. But it wasn't really until I later that I understood what fair trade really meant and how it could be a solution to human trafficking that I put everything I'd learnt from the pulpit and the more practical ways of helping into action.