Essentially fair trade is respecting people by paying them a decent, living wage for their work. The concept is so simple and yet so hard to achieve in our globalized economy that worships low price, even at the cost of workers, our earth and ultimately, to ourselves. Fair trade recognizes the human element in every business transaction, remembering there are people affected at every step of a supply chain who deserve to receive a living wage.
Fair trade is not charity. It is not an artificial inflation of prices, paying people more than their products are worth. Fair trade is a revolutionary model of doing business that covers the true cost of a product, including what it costs everyone involved in making it and ensuring they are able to live a healthy life.
Small producers of products we Americans consume every day, such as coffee, chocolate, fruits and vegetables, face a marketplace they increasingly can not live from. These industries tend to be particularly exploitative because they are labor-intensive and there is such a high demand for low prices. Besides farmers and small producers being pushed into extreme poverty, there is an intolerable number of documented cases of slavery, child labor, and dangerous working conditions including extreme pesticide exposure.
The concept of fair trade originated in Europe in the 1960′s although it made its continental debut much more recently. We Americans have a long way to go to catch up with the Europeans. In Switzerland, for example, more than half of all bananas are already fair trade whereas I have had a hard time tracking them down here in Portland, Oregon. Fair trade products available in America right now include chocolate, coffee, cocoa, sugar, vanilla, bananas, mangoes, tea, olive oil, flowers, and shea butter. Fair trade handicrafts, such as those I carry in my online boutique, are also widely available in the States.
Fair trade is not just good for people, it is good for the planet. In order to qualify for fair trade status products must be grown or produced in a way that is environmentally sustainable. See the Fair Trade Federation for a full list of fair trade criteria.
As Americans many of our purchasing choices and our desire for the lowest possible price are holding people in extreme poverty. Buying fair trade is an easy act we can incorporate into our everyday lives to make a profound difference for those who produce it for us.
For more information on fair trade or where to find fair trade products in your area see Transfair, Co-op America and the Fair Trade Federation. I also recommend subscribing to my blog, as I post regularly on fair trade issues.