Fair Trade: What is it? And why should we care?

Recap: Over 28 million people are enslaved. Modern-day slavery ranges from forced labor to child labor to domestic servitude to sex trafficking to bonded labor. And it permeates the world’s every corner, from our hometowns to faraway Lebanese cities. Slavery is not dead.

Ok, so how can I help?

Uncompromising schedules often times stalls us from quickly answering this question. Mine did, at least. Light on social issues and human rights movements and simply global news is at our fingertips after an effortless “scroll down to refresh”. Accessing information is easy – digesting and converting it into action is not, especially when we have a finite amount of energy and an infinite amount of outlets in which to partition it. It’s an inverse buffet experience. Rather than having endless items that must fit into one fist-sized stomach, we’re working with a fist-sized amount of energy that can be consumed by a limitless number of hungry outlets. And with the hungriest of all being fed first: work, the kiddo’s activities, home projects, practices, hobbies, volunteering, community events, chill time to maintain one’s sanity, we certainly can’t commit more of Us to entities on our peripheral, can we?
We can by making small adjustments in the areas to which energy is already committed.


I will help end slavery by adjusting how I shop.

I found this to be a perfect opportunity to “feed” two outlets – weekly grocery shopping & slavery activism – with one spoonful of energy. It’s an easy way to transform a frequent activity into a rewarding contribution. And it remedies a guilty feeling of not helping to ameliorate a vast and deadly issue. As consumers, we can contribute to the end of slavery by buying Fair Trade and supporting companies with commendable labor practices. With a little conscious effort and a slight move to the right or left of that bag of Hershey’s kisses, we can kick slavery’s butt with each shopping trip.


First, what is Fair Trade and how does buying Fair Trade bring us closer to Slavery’s end?
In its simplest form, Fair Trade is a social movement that is powered by many independent organizations committed to establishing fair, humane and equal trading partnerships. Although there is no single Fair Trade authority, many organizations operate with this definition:

Fair Trade is a “trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, disadvantaged producers and workers—especially in the South” (FINE, 1998).

Fair Trade products include much more than just coffee and chocolate. Wine, linens, lotion, soccer balls are also a handful of products we can buy Fair Trade. Curious to discover more? Check out this list here: http://fairtradeusa.org/products-partners
Because there is no single Fair Trade authority, there is no one Fair Trade logo.

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Each logo represents a different Fair Trade organization with a different set of criteria for determining which products are and are not Fair Trade certified. Interested in learning about Fair Trade USA’s criteria?  Or World Fair Trade Organization’s principles? And Fair Trade International’s standards? (To name a few).

Regardless of a package’s logo, when we buy Fair Trade, we are supporting producers that obey labor laws, ensure safe, comfortable working conditions and fairly pay employees. When we buy Fair Trade, we are strengthening equal trade partnerships. When we buy Fair Trade, we are protecting the environment from degradation. When we buy Fair Trade, we are NOT supporting companies that mistreat and abuse (read: enslave) workers. Bam.


Fortunately Fair Trade products are becoming more and more ubiquitous. I choose to buy Fair Trade when purchasing kitchen staples (like rice, tea, chocolate, cocoa, sugar) and bath essentials such as soap and lotion.  Even if my budget doesn’t allow for or the local store doesn’t carry all Fair Trade options, I still feel great about the choices and impact I CAN make.

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Every time I am back home, I’ll make a handful of trips to Winans in downtown Troy. The owners, Joe and Laurie, work directly with farmers to ensure their beans are coming from safe and fair sources. A plug for my favorites: a large cup of Maine Blueberry coffee & a bag of dark chocolate espresso beans.

It was easy to call out Hershey’s earlier in this post because the chocolate  (and coffee) industry has taken hot heat in recent media.  If you are interested in why companies like Hershey’s are often and strongly criticized, read more here.  Additionally, if you would like to see how your favorite chocolate companies stack up in the Fair Trade world, check out this detailed list.

Combatting slavery through consumerism is not limited to buying only certified Fair Trade products. Companies are tightening, revising and raising their code of conduct standards; some of our favorite items are produced sans slavery, but do not wear a slave-free logo.  How can we identify these products, as well as their culpable counterparts?  That’s what we’ll explore next month.

Until then, I challenge you to discover opportunities in your schedules that allow for slight modification and powerful amelioration of social issues such as human trafficking and slavery.  It can be done!

Join the Movement to End It

Friday, February 27 is Shine a Light on Slavery Day, which is part of the campaign by End It Movement to raise awareness of modern slavery around the world. Those who wish to join the movement are encouraged to mark a Red X on their hands, post a picture on their social networks, and tell people why they are joining the movement.


Free To Run Foundation is encouraging its supporters to join this movement. When posting your picture, in addition to using the hash tag #enditmovement, also tag #free2run and our applicable social media profile on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

To show our support for Shine a Light on Slavery Day, we are offering a discount code for our 4th Annual World Race for Hope 5k Columbus. By using the code ENDITCBUS, you can save $5 off any of the registration categories (Adult, Child/Student, Virtual). The code is good through March 1st. To register, go to the registration page.

A Reflection on Slavery

Beatrice Fernando is in a Sri Lankan airport hugging her 3-year-old son goodbye.
She is 23, divorced and is leaving him, for him.

An agency offered housemaid employment opportunities in Lebanon, and as a young single mother, she is desperate to find a way to support herself and her growing son.
She does not know that the flight from her home in Sri Lanka to the agency’s office in Lebanon will lead her into hell.

Her passport is taken away.

Her workdays last 20 hours.

Her dinner is found in trash cans.

The apartment in which she works quickly becomes a prison; she is locked inside, unable to leave.

Her cheeks are slapped. Her head is thrown against a wall. A broom and feet crash into her back.
She endures the hunger, the fatigue, the abuse day

after day

after day

after day,


Hunger, Fatigue, Abuse lead her to the fourth-floor apartment balcony.

She stands on the railing, thinking of the prison she cannot escape, thinking of her son she cannot see, thinking of the freedom she cannot grasp, and jumps.


“Property of Salem” is tattooed on Jennifer Kempton’s groin. This is one of several tattoos found on her body, all of which are disgusting marks designed by dope gang leaders and pimps.

Her childhood was abusive.

Her relationships were destructive.

The abuse and destruction, along with her work in downtown Columbus, Ohio, led her into drug addiction and street prostitution:

Sex trafficking.

Pimp after pimp have marked her as HIS property.

Groin, breast, neck, back.

Belonging to everyone but herself, she looped a noose around her neck.


These two stories tell the frightening tale of modern-day slavery.

Before my partnership with the Free to Run Foundation, I would instantly think “Underground Railroad”, “Dutch West India Company” and “13th Amendment” upon hearing the word slavery; my slavery timeline ended 149 years ago with its abolition in the United States.

I wouldn’t have thought about Jennifer’s spiral into sex trafficking, nor would I have considered Beatrice’s blind step into domestic servitude. But with a few noteworthy links, and Google at my fingertips, I quickly discovered how expansive and complex and alive slavery is. Slavery is just as much a local issue as it is an international one. And slavery takes on many identities, including forced labor, child labor, domestic servitude, sex trafficking and bonded labor.

Beatrice jumped from the apartment’s fourth-floor balcony because she wanted to escape domestic servitude. She did escape, but not by taking her life. She now lives in Massachusetts and provides financial assistance for the education of trafficked women’s children through the Nivasa Foundation.

The noose around Jennifer’s neck broke; she also escaped.

The pimps, the dope gangs, the drugs.

But not the haunting tattoos, until an artist in Lancaster, Ohio transformed her scars into portraits of color and flowers and hope. This change from scar to art inspired Jennifer to found Survivor’s Ink, which is a non-profit that offers full scholarships to survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation to have their branding tattoo’s covered or removed.

Jennifer’s and Beatrice’s stories are two of 28 million. Through awareness and dialogue, we can help write more beautiful endings like these women’s. And through persistence and conscious effort, we can halt every bad beginning from ever being written. Slavery did not end in 1865; it’s time that it finds a place in museums, next to historical artifacts like dinosaurs and carrier pigeons and dial-up internet modems.

What are some of the steps we can take toward eliminating modern slavery? I will share one way I am making a difference in next month’s post.
Sources: endslaverynow.org         http://gracehaven.me