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Message in the Bag

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

The Turtle Bag has always carried a message: Turtle Bags was set up to raise awareness of the hazards of plastic bags, over 20 years ago. Our message explaining how turtles visiting UK waters pick up our plastic bags and most have plastic inside them, is the message we send out to the world with each bag.


Early this week, I was delighted to be with my fellow BAFTs members at our annual conference and AGM. BAFTS Fair Trade Network UK is a network of independent shops and suppliers dedicated to promoting Fair Trade retail in the UK. There I discovered that we are not the first midlands organisation to use this trick of putting out a message in a bag.

This year the conference was on our doorstep in the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham and focused on exploring the local heritage of making things and how they were made.


We were joined by Dr Joseph Yannielli of Aston University who gave a thought provoking talk exploring how society has been grappling with the issue of fair trade in particular since early industrialisation. He was joined by two of his students Samriti Hans and Safiah Al-Shatheli whose talk took us to the early beginnings of cotton production which were mired in slavery. Safiah spoke of the early campaigners of human rights who challenged the use of slavery in the production of cotton, sugar and coffee




Elizabeth Heyricks cotton pouches depicting slavery.

His talk took us to the early beginnings of cotton production which were mired in slavery. Joseph spoke of the early campaigners of human rights who challenged the use of slavery in the production of cotton, sugar and coffee

Elizabeth Heyrick was one of the fighting force behind the movement to abolish slavery. Outraged, by the use of slavery in the making of the the cotton she saw for sale, Elizabeth set up the Female Society of Birmingham in 18325 on a specific mission to abolish slavery.

The society produced these bags which tell the story of the cotton slaves. These beautifully made pouches made in the 1830’s, display a picture of the slave driver with a slave, a whip in his hands. A brutal reminder of where the term “Slave Driver” comes from.

The bags artfully raises the issue of slavery on silk pouches, as this was the only material untarnished by slavery.


The text reads : The driver’s whip unfolds its torturing evil, “She only sulks – go lash her to her toil”.

At the conference a talk by Ben Gallagher from Tonys Chocolonely followed. Ben shared the details of modern slavery which is still with us not only in textile production, but also in sugar and cocoa production. We learnt how Tonys Chocolonely were trying to change the cocoa supply chain.

The mission of fair trade continues to tackle slavery today. The Fair Trade Cotton Mark which we are proud to carry on our cotton string bags is a symbol of our fair supply chain for cotton.

BAFTS shop and supplier members gather at the 2023 Conference and AGM in the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter.

Amongst the many challenges, the great news is that there are fair trade, social enterprise and tech solutions out there who are pushing the boundaries forward and inviting their peers to work with them to improve practice.


Included in this group of people would be the community of BAFTS pictured. BAFTS members are a spirited bunch and we were buoyed up to be together and explore our shared mission. It was a lovely time to catch up with friends old and new and the Jewellery Quarter was brought to life by a great tour of the area by jewellery designer Laura Cave of Just Trade UK

If you are looking to support fair trade products for yourself or your store, or would like to join yourself BAFTS would love to hear from you.



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