Next time you buy that cute t-shirt for $5.50, marked down from $10.00, think about this:
How much did it actually cost?
What is the cost of growing cotton? Is harvesting free? What about the assembly cost?
Then consider transportation costs. Transport isn't free and it isn't cheap.
That $10.00 price tag is the mark-up price.
Who's making a profit here? We promise the cotton grower is barely making ends meet. The seamstress isn't feeding a family, paying for housing, or covering costs for her child's education.
It's not your fault but you can be part of a solution!
You're concerned about the people who grow your food and assemble your clothing, right? Did you know there are over 1.66 million people working as farmers, textile workers, and artisans working in organizations where they enjoy the benefits of Fair Trade?
If not, we put this post together just for you. Take a minute and discover what it all means for them and you. Who knows, it may even inspire you to join the movement.
Putting Fair and Trade Together
In a nutshell, Fair Trade is a system designed so that producers in developing countries receive a fair price for goods sold in developed countries.
When you consider the broader picture, it isn't simply a system, it's a social movement. People form social movements because they believe in creating last change.
Participating as a consumer in this movement means you help advance social and economic justice for people who live in developing countries.
If you believe in fair treatment for farmers and their workers, support the movement. If you don't like the idea of farmers or artisans working at the mercy of the more powerful purchasers, support the movement. If you like the idea of sustainability and protection of the environment, consider supporting the movement by purchasing certified products.
These are only a few of the benefits but there are many more.
Improved Working Conditions
When you buy a bag of coffee beans, a t-shirt, or a bunch of bananas, how often do you think about the person who cultivated the plants, hemmed the shirt, or picked and packaged the bananas?
If you said "rarely" or "never," it doesn't make you a horrible person!
Most of us lead busy lives and buying food and clothing is just another task we check off on our to-do list.
Consider sugar cane production for a second. We all benefit from the production of sugar cane, especially if we put sugar in our coffee or tea, bake with it, or eat doughnuts with colored sprinkles. No matter how you feel about healthy eating, you probably consume a small amount of sugar.
Sugar cane grows in several different countries but for this example, we'll look at sugar cane grown in El Salvador and assume it comes from a non-Fair Trade certified plantation.
Sugar cane cutters work long hours, often in extremely hot conditions. If they work on a farm where they don't take enough breaks and aren't assured adequate hydration, they risk death from heatstroke and exhaustion.
The tool of the sugar cane trade is the machete. Imagine the risk of serious injury if you're exhausted or forced into working without a break. In El Salvador, children work in the fields, too, and often for over nine hours a day.
Just like adults, children use machetes and are susceptible to the same workplace hazards.
Sugar cane farming also exposes workers to toxic chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers. Respiratory problems are common on these farms.
But workers on Fair Trade certified farms are not only guaranteed safe working conditions, but they also earn sustainable wages. Their communities also enjoy benefits.
Aiding Local Communities
When you buy certified products, you help improve the economy of the area where those products are made.
But it also means communities receive funds above the basic price of products sold. This happens through Fairtrade Premium. Certified farmers or workers receive money above the selling price of products.
Fairtrade Premium funds go to communities where community members invest them in a variety of projects including:
- Leadership training
- Organic certification
- Product improvement
Each community decides how funds are used in various social, economic, and environmental programs. Remember the example of sugar cane farmers? In 2015, sugar cane ranked second in Fairtrade Premium payments.
Farmers and artisans determine their own future and in turn, businesses and their communities thrive. More profits remain in the community but that isn't the only benefit.
Support Human Rights
Human rights and Fair Trade make excellent partners.
According to the United Nations (U.N.), every human being has rights — social, economic, and cultural. Human rights deal with these areas: work conditions, social protection, education, health and well-being, and scientific progress.
The movement supports human rights through the implementation of Fair Trade Standards.
These standards protect children because forced child labor is prohibited and children have the rights of security, education, and play. Slave labor and trafficking are also not tolerated.
The standards also mean a zero tolerance policy for:
When you purchase certified products you support health and safety programs in the workplace. For example, farmers cannot use pesticides and textile workers benefit from protection from exposure to hazardous materials.
Other benefits of Fair Trade focus on sustainable business practices.
The Sustainability Factor
When you purchase certified products you help farmers and artisans generate income without negatively affecting future generations and their ability to meet their needs.
Communities concerned about the future use sustainability practices, which include a focus on:
- Healthy environment
- Social and economic equity
Sustainable agriculture supports practices that minimize negative impacts of our environmental footprint.
For example, farmers may use growing methods that contribute to healthy soil. They may also focus on minimizing water usage. Lowering pollution levels during production may be part of an artisan's contribution to sustainability.
In short, promoting worker wellbeing, concern for the environment, and boosting local economies offers huge benefits for the communities in the present and for future generations.
Consumer Benefits of Fair Trade
So far, we've discussed the benefits of Fair Trade for farmers and artisans. The consumer enjoys many benefits as well.
When you purchase from certified retailers you know the products originated from a place where workers don't suffer from exploitation. You know the farmer used sustainable farming practices.
If you purchase home goods or personal products like soap or jewelry, you support, in many cases, women who want a better future for their families.
As a consumer, you contribute by supporting farmers and their families who you may never meet but can still have a connection to through your purchases.
If you're interested in supporting the Fair Trade movement, we invite you to shop with us. Check out our blog for stories about our products and the people who enjoy using them.