May 10th probably seems like any other ordinary day, but what you might not realize is that it’s World Fair Trade Day. OK, so what’s that? It’s a celebration of organizations and businesses that support the principles of Fair Trade. You may not realize it, but many products today are becoming certified and recognized for Fair Trade. These products include everything from coffee to chocolate to clothing. And? W.T.F. does that mean?
Let’s start from the beginning. According to the Fair Trade Federation, its members are businesses in the United States that support farmers and artisans (producers) in developing countries through Fair Trade. The goals of Fair Trade are:
- Improving impoverished countries.
- Provide health care and better wages for producers.
- Empower the poor (especially women).
- Environmental sustainability (use everything and let nothing go to waste).
- Economic and entrepreneurial independence for producers.
- Provide safe work environment and conditions.
- Children’s rights
- Promote and maintain cultural identity.
Wait, did this start from some Greenpeace hippie thing? No. It began in 1946 when a volunteer with the Mennonite Central Committee, Edna Ruth Byler, visited a sewing class in Puerto Rico. Feeling that the workers should receive more value for their work, Byler began promoting their work through Ten Thousand Villages, which was officially established in 1958. (Ten Thousand Villages is having a BOGO sale for Mother’s Day, so check them out if you need a last minute gift) In 1949, Sales Exchange for Refugee Rehabilitation and Vocation (SERRV), a non-profit and Fair Trade organization is established and currently serves 35 countries. A few decades later, the Fair Trade Federation (1994) and the World Fair Trade Organization (1989) are developed to support and certify companies that are based on Fair Trade. Fair Trade certification is further pursued by Solidaridad, a Dutch NGO and UCIRI, a farmer organization, who begin the first Fair Trade certification initiative in 1988 and established the Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO) in 1997.
Does this mean Fair Trade is out-sourcing jobs from America? No. Fair Trade is no about taking jobs away from America nor is about giving handouts. Fair Trade seeks to improve the lives of the poorest and preserving cultural heritage through their products. Most Fair Trade products don’t have American alternatives and they seek to use what would be seen as disposable materials to make them into jewelry, home decor, or other accessories. UPAVIM, for example, uses aluminum cans to make earrings and bracelets. The goals of Fair Trade are to encourage self-sufficiency, economic independence, and improved wages for the producers. Plus, if the Fair Trade business grows in the United States, that means a job opening for an American in the community to help run the business locally. For more answers to myths about Fair Trade, visit the Fair Trade Myths section from the Fair Trade Federation.
How do organizations determine if a company upholds Fair Trade? The World Fair Trade Organization has ten principles companies should follow to uphold the values of Fair Trade:
- Create opportunities to help people move from poverty to economic self-sufficiency.
- Involve employees, members, and producers in an organization’s decisions.
- Does not take advantage of producers to increase profit. The organization works with producers to avoid unfair competition and promotes and protects cultural identity and traditional skills.
- A fair price for products mutually agreed on by all participants.
- No child labor or forced labor.
- Workers should not endure any discrimination. Companies should support gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. Workers can also join trade unions.
- Company should provide safe working conditions.
- Company should encourage and teach producers to develop management and production. The company should also provide producers with the access to markets (local, international, etc.).
- Promote Fair Trade with honest advertising and marketing techniques.
- Ensure environmental sustainability by minimizing waste, buying locally, and reducing energy use.
For more details about these principles and information about certification, visit the World Fair Trade Organization’s link to these 10 principles.
How can these ideas compete with large industries that rely on globalization and mass production? With individual support and awareness, these ideas can become a reality and have a chance to survive. In the United States we are continually encouraged to support local business and provide better wages and work environments, and why wouldn’t these be things we value for one another? Everyone wants a good paycheck to provide for yourself or your families, healthcare to be there when you are sick, and respect for your work and achievements. One organization in particular that strives to change a large industry, the fashion industry, is Ethical Fashion Forum. Founded in the U.K. in 2005, the Ethical Fashion Forum is taking on the challenge to transform the environmental and social standards of the fashion industry by developing the principles of education, decreasing poverty, and using methods to sustain the environment. Their site has listings of fashion companies that support these principles.
Sounds great, but W.T.F. does this have to do with me? It has everything to do with you. Now that you can see how Fair Trade strives to improve many factors (environmental, working conditions, education, etc.) that are important to everyone. If we can strive to change these factors in the United States, why not include the rest of the world? Your support, by purchasing Fair Trade products or enjoying a cup of Fair Trade coffee on May 10th, upholds these values for yourself and people throughout the world. For listings of Fair Trade products and companies, visit Fair Trade USA and lend a helping hand.