As we come to the second week of advent and prepare for Christmas I want to talk about the facts of fair trade. This year I have made a commitment to buy only fair trade items for friends and family and sometimes it can be hard to know where to start and how to identify what products are fair trade. If you are new to fair trade there are probably even more questions floating through your head, so here are a few general facts about fair trade. If anyone has other information to add or correct please leave a comment! I want to make sure I am accurate and up to date. So here we go...
So what is fair trade?
I took this straight off of the world fair trade organizations website, because I think they sum it up so nicely.
"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, marginalized producers and workers"
A company then, that is committed to fair trade practices, will either buy ingredients from workers in other countries (or the U.S.) and make their own products (ensuring adequate pay and working conditions) , or they will sell handmade products from organizations already established. (ie: buy coconut oil in bulk to make their own shampoo and conditioner, or take handmade jewelry and sell it to consumers on behalf of the developing community, ensuring that the money goes directly back to that community.)
Why is it important to buy fair trade?
For me, it all comes down to this: we are seeing worse working conditions, outrageously low pay, unsafe environments, child labor, and slavery. And this is all because foreign companies and large U.S. corrperations need the cheapest labor, so they can sell it to the consumer at the cheapest price. (Walmarts "low price guarantee", anyone?)
Fair trade towns USA says this about fair trades importance:
"When you choose to purchase Fair Trade products, you are endorsing an economic system that provides opportunities for producers to lift themselves out of poverty. Fair Trade provides assurances to consumers that producers are paid fair prices for their products and labor. It gives them more direct market access which removes many of the “middle-men” who traditionally have absorbed the majority of the profits. In addition, Fair Trade provides a set of requirements that assure consumers that strict standards have been met to protect the environment, build economic sustainability, empower women, and allow opportunities for education, poverty alleviation, and health care."
So why is it so important? Because when you realize how drastically your purchases impact the lives of others, you can't help but want that impact to be a positive one. And all you have to do is shop! And we can start by shopping for things we all need, like bath and beauty products, recycled paper towels, etc. :)
Terms you should know:
Fair trade: A system of exchange that honors producers, communities, consumers, and the environment. It is a model for the global economy rooted in people-to-people connections, justice, and sustainability.
Cruelty-free: This sounds like a fair trade term, but it's not. Cruelty free is a term used when a product has not been tested on an animal.
Co-op: A co-op is when Fair trade organizations work primarily with small businesses and democratically run cooperatives that agree to reinvest a portion of profits in community projects like health care clinics and childcare programs. These cooperatives are trying to cut out any middle men, and buy only and directly through the producers to ensure fair wadges and to see community and social change. Sometimes you will see pictures and stories of the particular producer on a fair trade website.
Sustainable: This ties into the cooperatives and means that the company selling the fair trade items create opportunities for social and sustainable economic development to the producer.
USDA Organic: A product claiming to be organic using the USDA organic label means that the product is 90-95 percent organic. And although many fair trade products are organic, a product carrying this label may not be fair trade. This doesn't mean not to shop organic though! I'm a big fan of organic.
How can you tell if it's really fair trade?
This one can be tricky, as many companies are noting the recent trend in conscious shopping and can slap the fair trade name on a product, but one of the best ways to identify a fair trade item is by its label. There are two very important symbols to watch out for, So you know it is certified fair trade. Remember, just because it says it is fair trade, doesn't mean it is. Do some research first.
I am still learning about fair trade everyday and am so honored to be a part of this movement to care so deeply for the hands that make the products I use. For more information on fair trade certification and fair trade in general, visit the fair trade USA website here.