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Fair trade at your fingertips

Posted on 18/03/2010

Dr Dorothea Kleine managed the Fair Tracing Project

A radical project, managed by Dr Dorothea Kleine, of the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London, which would enable shoppers to access the ethical credentials of products at their fingertips, has been selected from thousands of projects to be showcased at a special exhibition.


The interdisciplinary ‘Fair Tracing’ Project is one of 16 projects from Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) grants to be included in the EPSRC Impact! Exhibition, taking place at the Royal College of Art, London, between March 16 and March 21.


The Fair Tracing concept brought together researchers from Royal Holloway, Sheffield Hallam University, Anglia Ruskin University and Oxford Internet Institute, who envisioned a digital tagging system that could provide the answers to the dilemmas faced by shoppers about where the goods they are buying come from and how much of their money ends up with the producer.


The idea is that simply by pointing your mobile at the normal barcode at the back of a product, modern smartphones can read the code, link to the internet and connect to information covering every stage of the chain linking the producer of the goods right through to the consumer – enabling people to make more informed decisions on what they are purchasing.


Engineering and physical sciences research has huge impact on the economy, on public policy, on culture, and on our everyday lives but it often goes unnoticed by the general public. To communicate the impact of the research EPSRC fund, the Research Council is working with NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) and the Department of Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art (RCA), to co-ordinate an exhibition of original design proposals which explore the relationship between science and society, looking at the different types of impact engineering and the physical sciences have on the world.


In preparation for the exhibition, designers worked with the scientists from each project to develop an object reflecting on future impacts of technology. "We really enjoyed working with our designer, Nicolas Myers," says Dr Kleine, "We are an action research project so we had a good idea what we wanted the technology to do. Nicolas came at it from a very different angle and his exhibit imagines how we can do away with even the mobile phone screen and embed information directly in the surface of the object. That really pushes beyond what is currently feasible and maybe even desirable. But it sure generates debate around the exhibit and our project. It speaks to a different audience than the hardcore ethical shoppers we have mostly been working with."


To find out more about the project visit www.fairtracing.org


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