With the beginning of October, there’s more than fall starting up. You’ve heard plenty about Pumpkin Spice Lattes, suggestions about how to layer scarves and jackets, and why Europe is a great destination for this time of year. What you may not have heard about is that it’s Fair Trade Month! If you’re a supporter of sustainable and ethical fashion, you are probably already familiar with this month and will start receiving ideas from bloggers about where to shop for fair trade and companies will be updating you with the latest about their artisans’ achievements. While there are some controversies about the effectiveness of fair trade, I still think there’s something to be said for fair trade’s goals and principles. In fact, I think we can incorporate them into our daily lives beyond buying coffee, chocolate, and clothing from fair trade companies. Let me show you how:
As a quick reminder, the principles of fair trade according to the Fair Trade Federation are:
- Create Opportunities for Economically and Socially Marginalized Producers
- Develop Transparent and Accountable Relationships
- Build Capacity (or producers’ independence)
- Promote Fair Trade
- Pay Promptly and Fairly
- Support Safe and Empowering Working Conditions
- Ensure the Rights of Children
- Cultivate Environmental Stewardship
- Respect Cultural Identity
You can read a further explanation of them in my post: “W. T. F. Is World Fair Trade?”
While these principles are all good standards for any purchase, I think we can take a step further and incorporate them into our daily lives. For me, it’s not about having a good feeling, a sense of altruism, or feeling obligated to do good for others. To me, incorporating fair trade principles is to empower others and give a voice to those who don’t feel they have one (including the environment). In the end, I empower myself by empowering those around me. To see what I mean, here are a few ways you can incorporate fair trade into your daily life:
- Always express gratitude towards those who look out for you. When it comes to service jobs, there is definitely a lack of respect for those who serve us at a restaurant or clean our hotel rooms. But, having realized the importance of paying people promptly and fairly (principle #8), I’ve learned that leaving a tip for the maids at a hotel, the shuttle or bus driver who takes me to the airport, and the waiter at a restaurant is not an obligation. It’s a reminder that I once held a job like that and know what it’s like to be overlooked or seen as unimportant. I’d like to think my tip will help them have extra beyond survival. I’ve definitely learned that having a little money saved up helped me pursue classes in other fields and pursue other career options (principle #1). That’s why I see giving a tip as a way to respectfully say, “Thanks for helping me out and looking out for me. Not everyone could or would want to do your job.”
- Think about how you treat yourself and others. To be more responsible and accountable, we first have to see how we treat people. Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people never forget how how you made them feel.” Rather than disregard someone or jump to conclusions about them, it’s worth it to take a step back and put yourself in their shoes. Whether someone is an intern who’s made a mistake on the job or an acquaintance who does something I don’t quite understand, I find it’s much better to put myself in their position rather than judge or accuse. I’d rather be in a more honest and harmonious working environment where people can feel free to ask questions and feel safe (principle #6). Thinking about the times I was talked down to or treated with distrust, I remember how powerless I felt over my own experience. At my previous career, I found it important to help and mentor those new to the company to reassure them that they are valued and trusted. By sharing as much as I could about a company and making the process as transparent as possible, the new employee felt comfortable and confident about their decision to work at this job (principle #2).
- Support education. In my mind, there’s no doubt it: Education and training is where empowerment begins. I read about it from artisans at fair trade companies and I felt it myself when I began exploring activities and classes I was interested in. The more I dabbled in, the more I realized I had more possibilities if I wanted them. When I think of education, it’s not only for children and assisting them from staying out of impoverished situations (principle #7). It’s also for adults who think they have no other options than to stay in an unhappy professional or personal situation. Knowing you have more, whether at work or outside of work always gives you more independence and satisfaction to realize you have the potential to do and have more in your life (principle #3).
- Treat the environment and other people with respect. Recycling and composting are first good steps to take (and you can learn more about getting started from The NotePasser). However, there is always more to do beyond this including using and wasting less plastic, exchanging and swapping items instead of throwing them out, and supporting organizations and companies who look for innovative ways to utilize sustainability (principle #8). Just as important as respect for the environment is respect for other people and their ways of living and seeing the world. When it comes to cultural identity, valuing and showing respect for other peoples’ backgrounds is key to getting anything accomplished in this world (principle #9). I just wish more people understood the importance of this concept.
These steps may seem like huge tasks to take on, but in reality it’s something that isn’t all that difficult to incorporate into your daily life. Fair Trade Month may only be in October, but these principles can be more effective if we use them in other ways in our everyday lives. I hope this post will inspire you to discover ways about how you can incorporate the principles of fair trade into your life beyond shopping.
What ways have you found are helpful to show others you value them and their work? How will you incorporate fair trade principles into your life?