Today is World Fair Trade Day! (Confession; I only found out about this yesterday.) To celebrate, I thought I’d use it as an excuse to
buy a truckload of Fair Trade chocolate talk about Fair Trade.
As I’ve mentioned before, I volunteer in a fair trade shop. I had my second review a few weeks ago, during which I needed to give a brief, simple explanation of what fair trade means – the sort of thing you’d say to a customer who asked. This was probably the biggest challenge of the meeting for me…As you may have noticed by now, I’m not too great at ‘brief and simple’. If a customer wants a 15-20 minute lecture on fair trade, then awesome. Otherwise, I’m struggling. However, my best super-simple explanation of fair trade is…
Fair trade is about making sure people are paid a fair, living wage for the work they do. Fair trading gives people the chance to lift themselves out of poverty and create a sustainable future for themselves, their families and, ultimately, their communities.
(You will be unsurprised to hear that this is not what I actually said in my review. I don’t even remember what I said. I don’t want to know. I didn’t get fired, that’s all that matters…)
Although this explanation is technically correct, there’s *so much more* to fair trade. Fair trade looks especially to disadvantaged workers, to protect them and help them to improve their lives. It helps people to improve their skills and build their businesses, it looks to the rights of women and other marginalized groups, and it also encourages people to protect the environment. It has the power to completely transform people’s lives.
People often confuse fair trade with charity. I’m not anti-charity – I think there are times when charity is necessary and a force for good. But whole communities can’t be supported by charity indefinitely, and this is where Fair Trade comes in.
Fair trade is not charity, it’s fairness. Workers make a product and are paid a fair price for what they’ve done, instead of the lowest price huge corporations can possibly demand. The fair price for products is figured out by Flocert (http://www.flocert.net/fairtrade-services/). Being paid fairly allows people to make their own way out of poverty and create real livelihoods for themselves.
Many fair trade businesses sell hand-made products which keep traditional crafts alive and/or recycle trash (Mowgs baskets are a good example of a company that does both – see http://www.justfairtrade.com/mowgs-baskets-from/). A lot of companies also work with specific groups of marginalized and/or vulnerable people – women who have been trafficked into the sex industry, for example, or disabled people – to help them create new lives for themselves and their families. Sari Bari is a good example (https://saribari.com/).
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need fair trade…because all trade would automatically be fair. Until then, vote with your wallet for a fairer world 🙂