Lao youth to help promote fair trade

VIENTIANE, Laos (MindaNews / 27 March) – Lao high school students identified as youth ambassadors of non-profit organization Fair Trade Laos (FTL) committed to help in promoting fair trade values among young consumers.

“By spreading awareness about fair trade, we will be able to widen the consumer base of the fair trade products,” Mr Rajat Singh from Vientiane International School, who is leading the Youth Ambassadors Program (YAP), told Vientiane Times. Fair trade, according to this 17-year-old student, is “a huge concept which extends all the way from protecting the rights of the workers to preserving culture or protecting environment.”

Noting the enormous work to do and the scope of the FTL’s campaign, Mr Rajat said it is timely to start the job now as the “stage” of Lao economy “has been isolated from the rest of the world.” He said, compared to other countries, Laos has not felt a great impact from the media and businesses yet. “Promoting fair trade in Laos at this stage will allow us to modify the consumer mentality to consume in a sustainable manner,” he added.

“Sustainable” consumption, for him, is being practiced when the consumers “are not wasteful” or “consuming more than what they need” as they are “subjected to planned obsolescence.” He cited for example a consumer buying products designed not to last long but because they are trendy or fashionable. “Being aware of this will allow the consumer to engage into a sustainable consumption behavior,” he continued.

But why start with the youth in Laos?

According to Fair Trade Laos coordinator and director of Bokeo Social Enterprise Ms Veronique Kittirath, the program is a strategic challenge for Laos as the result will be long-term. “By leading FTL lifestyle, they will influence adults or their parents with the spillover effect on their consumption behaviour in their workplace,” she said. The youth can do as much as “promoting corporate procurement of Fair Trade products, and reaching out to government and through policy interventions.”

Fair Trade Laos markets products that are produced by the people in Laos where most of them live in extreme poverty. At present, it has 13 members, while inviting more socially responsible businesses, Lao non-profit associations, international non-government organizations and producer groups.

“The FTL offers the chance to make a living while not having to give up cultural riches and practices by turning existing skills and natural and organic raw materials into high value added products that can access to high end local and international markets,” Ms Veronique said.

“Here, communities get triple wins – generate income, preservation of their traditions and upgrade their skills and knowledge,” she stressed.

Mr Rajat said the youth ambassadors are currently producing a video presentation which will be shown in schools here as one of the ways to educate their fellow youth about fair trade values. It will be launched on the Fair Trade Laos Day on May 10.

He said in the long term, the values of fair trade will be well-known and eventually take Laos out of poverty. “Currently looking at the scale of poverty, this will look like an idealistic view. However, a journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step,” he added.

[Lorie Ann Cascaro of MindaNews is a fellow of FK Norway exchange program. She’s currently in Laos and hosted by Vientiane Times.]