Fair Trade: What it is and why it matters
October 22, 2007
A few years ago, several well-known athletic wear corporations and celebrity clothing lines received negative publicity because their businesses were found to exploit workers in foreign countries.
The term “sweatshop” became synonymous with low wages, long working hours, child labor, and unsafe working conditions. Consumers showed their disapproval of such business practices by boycotting certain companies and many investors demanded corporate accountability.
As a consumer and an investor, I recognized my own responsibility in giving a voice to my social justice concerns through the purchases I made, as well as transferring my investments to a socially responsible mutual fund.
I first became aware of Fair Trade through my church’s commitment to social justice issues that calls its members to support companies that ensure workers receive fair wages, that there are fair labor conditions for workers, democratic and cooperative organizations, community development, and environmental sustainability.
One of my first purchases as an enlightened consumer was Fair Trade Certified coffee. My morning ritual is to drink a cup of freshly brewed coffee. The aroma and taste of Fair Trade coffee did not disappoint me; it was every bit as good as any gourmet coffee that I had ever enjoyed.
At every opportunity I encourage friends and relatives to buy Fair Trade Certified coffee, so it was only natural that when I took a writing for social action class at UNR, I chose Fair Trade as my project. Many of my classmates had not heard of Fair Trade coffee, including a student who worked as a barista in a local café.
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Part of my assignment was to develop a brochure and a flyer that would encourage consumers to purchase fair trade coffee. Through my research, I became aware of the number of farming cooperatives that have benefited from fair trade. When third world farmers and cooperatives receive a set price for their products, it allows them the financial means to provide basic needs for their families.
According to the nonprofit TransFair USA, the only independent, third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States, “Fair Trade Certified brings the global farmers’ market to the American consumer. Simply stated, it means that consumers every day can do a small thing that makes a big difference: By putting their wallets where their words are, shoppers can affect positive economic, social and environmental change for the farmers and families of the developing world. Who would have thought that a cup of Fair Trade Certified coffee, tea or cocoa could do so much for so many?
A Fair Trade Certified mark on a product ensures consumers that a fair price was paid for the product, fair wages were paid to the workers producing the product, monies were invested in the communities in which the product was produced for vital projects such as schools and health clinics, and that the products were produced in a sustainable manner thereby protecting both the workers and the environment.
And what really makes Fair Trade Certified work are the increasingly well-informed American consumers who are looking for – and, ever-increasingly, demanding – Fair Trade Certified products where they shop.” Transfair has been certifying fair trade coffee since 1999.
Increasingly, local grocery and health food stores now carry Fair Trade Certified products such as coffee, tea, cocoa, rice and bananas. I recently visited one of my favorite grocery stores, Trader Joe’s, where the coffee of the day was Peruvian Café Femenino, described on the label as medium roast, bright, nutty and sweet. I tried a sample and it was indeed a delicious cup of coffee as well as competitively priced. This particular Fair Trade Certified coffee is organic, shade grown and harvested by an all-female organization, Café Femenino Foundation.
I often select fair trade products as gifts for birthdays and Christmas. Fair Trade Certified products are available for purchase online at Web sites such as http://www.equalexchange.com, http://www.puravidacoffee.com, and http://www.agreatergift.org. The Transfair USA Web site, http://www.transfairusa.org, provides a list of major grocery stores and Fair Trade products that are currently available in the United States.
October has been designated as Fair Trade month to bring attention to the choices consumers have in supporting companies that are socially conscious. Since the holiday season will soon be upon us, I hope you will consider purchasing Fair Trade products as gifts. Another way of supporting Fair Trade is through your house of worship. My local church serves Fair Trade Certified coffee after Sunday morning services and I would encourage other faith communities to do the same.
Your purchases whether for personal use or gift giving help support Fair Trade, which benefits third world farmers and their families, as well as the environment.
• Elizabeth Reville is a freelance writer and resident of Carson City.
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