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.

MY ANSWER TO “HOW CAN I HELP?”

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.

BUYING FAIR TRADE

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.

WHAT’S FAIR TRADE IN MY SHOPPING CART

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!

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