Fair Trade – Alternative Shopping

By Jeanne Christensen, RSM

Did you know that October is Fair Trade Month?  While it seems too early, we will soon be considering what to give as Christmas gifts. Many of us will make donations to worthy causes or organizations in someone’s honor, others of us want to give actual gifts.  If you are among the latter, do you consider giving a fair trade gift — a gift that ensures the artisan or producer gets a fair price for their product?  Fair trade means creating sustainable and positive change. When items are fairly traded it means that partners participate in a system that aims to pay fair wages, creates long-term, direct trading relationships based on dialogue, transparency,  equity, and respect.

Fair trade began modestly in the 1940s when a few, small North American and European organizations reached out to poverty-stricken communities to help them sell their handicrafts to well-off markets. Fair trade  is not about charity. It uses a fair system of exchange to empower artisans and producers to develop their own businesses and foster sustainable development. It is a holistic approach to trade and development that aims to alter the ways in which commerce is conducted,  so that trade can empower the poorest of the poor.

Today,  Fair Trade is a global effort. Fair trade is a system of exchange that seeks to create greater equity and partnership in the international trading system by providing fair wages in the local context, supporting safe, healthy, and participatory workplaces, supplying financial and technical support to build capacity,  promoting environmental sustainability, respecting cultural identity, offering public accountability and transparency, building direct and long-term relationships and educating consumers.

Purchasing partners follow a set of internationally-accepted fair trade principles and practices that are designed to improve the livelihood of low-income people through alternative trade.  Products are purchased at prices set by the artisan, producer or farmer partners. Younger groups are assisted to learn costing that takes into account all the time and materials used in the process.  Usually, the purchasing partner pays for international shipping, customs fees, warehouse rent, product development and other forms of assistance, marketing, customer service, fulfillment, discounts for resellers and more.

Some important aspects of Fair Trade are funds are specifically designated for social, economic and environmental development projects. All over the world funds are used to improve the quality of life of individuals and communities. Purchasing partners don’t pretend to know what’s best for each community, they enable a democratic system where each individual or community determines how their funds are used.

The World Fair Trade Organization has established the following principles that Fair Trade organizations use to guide their day-to-day work:  developing transparent and accountable relationships, creating opportunities for economically and socially disadvantaged producers, building capacity, paying promptly and fairly, assuring gender equity, supporting safe and empowering working conditions, ensuring the rights of children, cultivating environmental stewardship, and building trade relationships based on   solidarity, trust and mutual respect.

Fair Trade Federation (FTF) members foster partnerships with producers, because they know these connections are a highly effective way to help producers help themselves.  Fair Trade Organizations seek to create sustainable and positive change in developing and developed countries.

Consumers can enliven developing countries, relieve exploitation, and promote environmental sustainability by purchasing Fair Trade-labeled items such as tea, cocoa, herbs, olive oil, clothing and accessories, decorative items, wine, and a wide variety of other products.  Some examples of stores in the Kansas City metropolitan area are the Roasterie in Kansas City, MO; Ten Thousand Villages in Overland Park, KS; World’s Window in Kansas City, MO; and Parisi Artisan Coffee in Kansas City, MO

A recent excerpt from a special article by Matthew Bolton, in The Examiner, Independence, MO stated:

“As consumer demand for ethically-produced goods increases, we’re able to chip away at the cycle of poverty that grips farming communities around the world,” said Paul Rice, president Fair Trade USA.

Through their participation in Fair Trade, farming families have earned more than $220 million in additional income since 1998, $56 million of which will be invested specifically in community development programs that provide access to education and life-saving health care.”

Some consumers express concerns that Fair Trade products will be more expensive than ordinary ones. However, this is not always the case.  ‘Most fair trade products are competitively priced in relation to their conventional counterparts,’ says the Fair Trade Federation. Fair trade organizations work directly with producers, cutting out exploitative middlemen, so they can keep products affordable for consumers and return a greater percentage of the price to the producers.’

There are a variety of businesses in the Independence and Kansas City region that stock Fair Trade products.  The Roasterie, which has three locations in Kansas City and sells beans to local grocery stores, has an organic line of products that are Fair Trade Certified. One of their buyers is One More Cup, a coffee shop in the Waldo neighborhood of Kansas City which exclusively serves Fair Trade Organic coffee.  ‘It was just really important to us – it seemed to be the right thing to do. You want to support people getting fair prices for their products,’ Stacy Neff, One More Cup’s co-owner, told me.”

If your local grocery store or coffee shop does not stock Fair Trade products, consider speaking to the manager and asking them to stock a Fair Trade option. For more information about Fair Trade, go here.

Part 2 of this series in November will focus on some of the Fair Trade stores in the Kansas City metropolitan area. 

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