Making Justice: Aarhus Shop Champions Fair Trade

Jutland Station / March 19, 2015

By Soyoun Park

The Fair Trade shop is located in Nørre Allé 7, Aarhus, Denmark. Photo: Soyoun Park

On March 12, the Human Rights Watch released a 140-page report detailing labour rights abuses in the Cambodian garment industry. Given the Cambodian government’s failure to enforce labour laws, this situation doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon. However, there is one man in Aarhus who believes people all over the world should be paid what they deserve. Jutland Station interviewed Poul Roed Kristensen, who has dedicated his life to raise awareness of fair trade across Denmark, in response to Human Rights Watch report.

Poul Roed Kristensen is passionate about human rights. Photo: Soyoun Park

When did you open this shop?

“The shop opened in 1993, so it has been 21 and-a-half years for me to work for this boutique. I have volunteered more than 40 years at the third world organisation called The Swallows in English, or U-Landsforeningen SVALERNE in Danish. There was the other organisation called the Third World Imports which imported coffee, tea, and honey on fair trading conditions. Together, we started this shop in Aarhus. At that time, we didn’t say fair trade. We said alternative trade.”

What do you mean “fair trade?”

“There was a discussion in the ’70s about what we called ‘New International Economic Order’ held by the United Nations and all of the people from third world. The third world people said they didn’t want aid, but wanted to trade in fair conditions by manufactured products for their own sake. Though the idea ended in nothing, some groups in U.S., Japan, Australia, and Europe started to make a new kind of trade called alternative trade. After 15 years the term changed into fair trade.

“The idea of fair trade is that poor people in the third world who make luxury products and send them to the developed countries should be better paid, since most of them earn nothing. Their children work because their families need money, but if you give these workers better earnings, then their children can go to school instead of working every day.”

Coffee is the second-highest selling product on world trade after oil. Photo: Soyoun Park

What do you and your groups do to promote fair trade?

“There are different kinds of fair trade in Denmark and also all over the world. For example, there is a fair trade mark that you can see on teas or other products. What we focus on is the people who make the products that we sell here. We consider not only the products but also the fair-trading process. For example, coffee is the second biggest product on world trade after oil, so there is a lot of money on coffee. Here, some big organisations and also the global conglomerates such as Nestle and Unilever can be involved. These companies don’t claim about the process but only the raw products. (However) we consider the process. Typically we cooperate with these associations and NGOs related to fair trade, but not with commercial companies.”

Have you read about the recent report on the labour rights abuses in Cambodia’s garment industry conducted by Human Rights Watch? What do you think about this?

“I have worked for Bangladesh for many, many years. Two years ago, there was a terrible catastrophe in a garment factory in Bangladesh and afterwards it was known worldwide. However, this kind of accident [has] happened many times in Bangladesh and another countries until now.

“We don’t claim that people in Bangladesh should have the same earnings as we have in Denmark. They could not sell their products if theirs was like that, not cheap. But their earnings and working environments should get better from year to year.”

Why have you volunteered for this for so long time?

“I ask myself why do I spend so many hours doing this quite often, and I don’t know. I guess it’s a feeling of social responsibility and a part of social engagement. Many people do human volunteering works in many countries and why do we do this? I think it’s because of a feeling of fairness about how people should treat each other. We have a strong feeling for that and that’s the main reason why I volunteer for fair trade.”

Customers may not always be fair trade-minded when purchasing goods, but the percentage of fair trade goods bought is increasing. Photo: Soyoun Park

How is the feedback from customers?

“There is a raising awareness, but maybe between 10 to 20% customers would think about fair trade when they buy something. So it’s a small part, but it is growing. However, it is important for us that fair trade is not a way of helping. Of course, helping can be a part of this but, primarily I try to push that fair trade is not a charity work.I and we would like to live in a world where there is justice, and where people are treated in a fair way. I feel this is a right way to pursue so I work for fair trade, which is a way of making justice.”