Ng Ming-chung, the Chairman of Fair Trade Voice started his foray into the world of Fair Trade in December 2007 through a study tour to Thailand organised by Fair Partner, a group supported by Oxfam. It was the first time for the Year Four LLB student to interact directly with the people he and his colleagues in Fair Trade Voice were servicing - Fair Trade producers. Here he describes that trip and the valuable lesson that has helped him on an inspirational path advocating fair trading practices.
"I remember the day on the Thailand tour when the participants were helping their host families in a Fair Trade village in Surin to prepare the products that they would sell in the following Saturday's Market," Ming-chun recalls. "While everyone was working on the preparation, one of the volunteers, Alex, was scolded by a facilitator of Fair Partner because he paid more than he had to for a bag of rice from Mrs Euuay - one of our hosts and a nice old lady. At first, I felt that Alex had done nothing wrong. But then, I realised what the problem was. I still keep the implications of that incident in my mind as I continue my advocacy work in Hong Kong.
"You see, Alex paid more because he pitied the old lady. He certainly did that in good faith, but his actions were not compatible with the idea of "Fair Trade". If the whole movement was just about giving more to the poor producers to improve their lives, fair trade would only be a charitable cause. I always keep in mind that what I am advocating is a solution that seeks to eliminate unfairness in the conventional trading system and empower producers in developing countries to achieve sustainable development. It is about a world where people get and pay no more and no less than they should."
From those early days, Ming-chun is fast becoming a local authority on his passion. "Put simply, fair trade aims to build sustainable relationships between producers and intermediaries in the supply chain," he says. "Fair trade advocates envision a world where producers in developing countries are not disadvantaged by unfair international trade rules. Fairness is the core idea behind the whole social movement. In a fair world, no one should be favoured or less favoured. The principle that people get what they deserve is simple, but to realise it in the current setting of the world - we all know that is not easy."
A year after the study tour to Thailand, Ming-chun took up the role of Chairman of Fair Trade Voice, an NGO focusing on education and advocacy of Fair Trade in Hong Kong. He and his team members, who are all from HKU, have been actively promoting fair trade to the students and management of the University through advocacy events in the past three years. "In the previous academic year, we launched our first overseas field trip and brought 11 students from the University to the Philippines to visit Fair Trade advocates and producers to explore the issue," he says. "Upon their return, they arranged several activities to let other students know about what they had seen and learnt on the trip. We have also extended our activities to education events for secondary school students to get more and more people to join the movement."
Participation in social services at the level that Ming-chun is involved is a real challenge and new students are advised not to overtax themselves until they are familiar with the workload of a particular group, position or charity. "What I am doing in Fair Trade Voice can be quite challenging as I need to allot my time better to perform my duty in the organisation - and at the same time work hard for my study," Ming-chun says. "Nevertheless, I feel that University life should be about more than just books and exams, and my social service learning experience has given me greater insights into the society that I am living in. My collaboration with students from different backgrounds also provides me with fresh perspectives on social issues."
David Ng Ming-chung