With its “Fair Culture” initiative, the German Commission for UNESCO promotes fair and sustainable exchange and trade relations in the cultural sector worldwide.
Fair Trade principles address poor labour standards and global inequalities. While they have been widely implemented in several economic sectors over the last decades, culture and creative sectors have not been part of the discussion so far. This needs to change. Inequalities are a key challenge for the cultural sector and creative industries, particularly between countries of the Global South and the Global North. Therefore, the German Commission for UNESCO has launched the “Fair Culture” initiative.
Fair Culture – A Key to Sustainable Development
Artists and cultural workers worldwide are faced with major structural inequalities. Artists from the Global South often have no access to international markets, suffer from precarious labour practises, cannot make a living from their work, and are less visible on the global art and culture market, as highlighted in the UNESCO Global Reports 2018 and 2022.
Cultural goods and services are increasingly disseminated in digital networks, transforming value chains. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic had a dramatic impact on artists and the entire cultural value chain, exacerbating inequalities and making the conversation about Fair Culture even more urgent.
of international artists residencies are based in Europe and North-America.
Developed countries still dominate trade in cultural services, accounting for 95 percent of total exports.
Fair Culture: More fairness in the cultural sector
The “Fair Culture” approach should become an integral part of reforms of the cultural sector (“building back better”) and of a future UN Framework for Sustainable Development.
“This debate [about Fair Culture] is an opportunity to talk about a new dynamic that could be injected into cultural cooperation drawing inspiration from a movement that had a really positive effect in other areas of international exchange: the FairTrade-Movement.” - Véronique Guèvremont, author of the study “Fair Culture – A Key to Sustainable Development”
Dr. Keith Nurse, World Trade Organization Chair, Institute University of the West Indies, on Fair Trade in the cultural sector
The study “Fair Culture - A Key to Sustainable Development” was published in 2021 on behalf of the German Commission for UNESCO. The baseline study was written by Prof. Dr. Véronique Guèvremont, who holds the UNESCO Chair “Diversity of Cultural Expressions” at the University of Laval in Québec, Canada, and financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
Inspired by the Fair Trade movement, the “Fair Culture” study is the first to present a comprehensive concept for establishing and promoting fair exchange and trade relations in the cultural sector worldwide. Fair Culture aims to promote the mobility of artists and cultural professionals and to improve international cooperation and solidarity based on a multistakeholder approach. It offers solutions to create new jobs and strengthen the local and regional markets of cultural and creative industries, especially in the Global South.
What happened so far
Experts discussions in Mannheim and Paris
In 2018, the German Commission for UNESCO invited representatives from politics, civil society and the scientific community to the UNESCO Creative City of Music Mannheim for an expert discussion of the initiative “Fair Trade for Culture”. The results of the discussion were presented at the 12th session of the Intergovernmental Committee of the 2005 UNESCO Convention in Paris and discussed by representatives of UNESCO Member States. Here, a particular focus was placed on the connection between the 2005 Convention and the Fair Trade concept.
In collaboration with Berlinale Talents, a talent development program of the Berlin International Film Festival and the German Federal Foreign Office, the German Commission for UNESCO organized the workshop Talents Footprints in February 2019, as part of the Berlinale Talents Program. Dr. Keith Nurse presented the concept of Fair Trade for Culture. With the participants he discussed the possibilities and opportunities for shaping a fair and sustainable culture and film industry.
The Frankfurt Book Fair
In partnership with the Frankfurter Buchmesse GmbH, the German Commission for UNESCO organized an interactive workshop titled “60 Minutes for Fair Culture - How can supply chains in the book industry be made fair and sustainable?” in October of 2019. International experts discussed how the concept of Fair Trade can be transferred to the book market, taking into account the specific conditions of the literature sector. (click here for the summary of the results of the workshop)
Fair Culture at the World Music Expo (WOMEX) 2019
Together with the Finnish Ministry of Culture and Education, the German Commission for UNESCO hosted another networking event in October as part of the Worldwide Music Expo (WOMEX) titled “60 Minutes for Fair Culture - How can supply chains in the music industry be made fair and sustainable?”.
The Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions
One of the main concerns of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005) is the promotion of a balanced exchange of cultural goods and services and the mobility of arts and culture professionals worldwide. These goals are closely linked to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The culture and creative industries are the fastest growing economies worldwide. The value of exports of cultural goods and services has risen sharply in recent years. However, their share of total exports worldwide is unequaly distributed.
The strongest industrialized countries have a responsibility to reduce existing trade barriers through targeted policy measures. They can also promote the mobility of cultural workers and cultural exchange, and create opportunities for access to international markets.
To overcome existing inequalities, Article 16 of the 2005 UNESCO Convention provides for preferential treatment for cultural workers and for their services and goods from the Global South.
Preferential treatment measures are not common: only 12 percent of developed countries report having granted preferential treatment measures.
The study “Fair Culture - A Key to Sustainble Development” (2021) identifies preferential treatment, according to Article 16 of the 2005 Convention, as one of three focal points for the implementation of the Fair Culture concept.
Preferential treatment is an advantage granted by a state to another state or group of states, without a condition of reciprocity. Preferential treatment promotes access to the markets of the Global North for cultural goods, services, and art and culture professionals from countries in the Global South.
The goal is to attain a dynamic cultural sector in the Global South, balanced cultural exchange and promote the diversity of cultural expressions worldwide.
Specific challenges in the cultural sector
Cultural goods and services have a dual nature - in addition to their economic value, they also have a cultural value. Therefore, consumer's choice often depends not on price but on aspects such as artistic quality or individual preference.
Similar to the food and textile industries, there is a strong need for international improvement in living and working conditions in the culture and creative industries. Living wages and earnings are a key concern. Capacity building and better access to local and global markets can strengthen and expand the potential of producers from the Global South.
At the same time, the public have to develop an awareness of supply chains, fair prices and conscientious consumption of cultural goods and services, in order to overcome the dilemma between individual economic interests or constraints and ethical action.
But there are also significant differences between the culture and creative industries and other sectors. In the cultural sector, trade mechanisms and flows are more complex: artistic freedom, intellectual property, and the mobility of art and cultural professionals plays an important role. Not only since the Covid-19 pandemic, the transfer and trade of cultural goods and services increasingly takes place in the digital environment. This necessitates a sustainable transformation of value chains.
Fair Culture can contribute to sustainable development in the field of commercial and non-commercial exchange of cultural goods and services.
The Fair Culture initiative of the German Commission for UNESCO promotes fair and sustainable trade of cultural goods and services since 2018 and advocates for the mobility of artists and creative professionals.
As the national point of contact of the 2005 Convention, the German Commission for UNESCO accompanies the implementation of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005) in and by Germany.
With the Fair Culture initiative, it aims to contribute to sustainable and fair development of the cultural sector and to promote the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda, such as decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), reduced inequalities (SDG 10) and peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16). To this end, the German Commission for UNESCO wants to identify good practice and make it visible. The Fair Culture initiative will also be a platform for networking and cooperation between international actors from academia, fair trade, and the cultural and creative sectors.
Raising public awareness of the importance of human rights-based and fair production and trade practices, and their social, cultural, environmental and economic impacts is one of the central goals and challenges.
To develop the Fair Culture initiative, the German Commission for UNESCO worked with the Institute for Culture and Media Management at the Hamburg University of Music and Theatre and the Office for Creative Industries in Bonn.