It’s Just Not Fair

I wrote a post on Fair Trade last week, but the moment I finished it, I loathed it. It was long and tiresome, uninspired, and failed to touch the topic adequately. It was supposed to start my in-depth look at the issues our trip is facing, but instead it felt like a sour essay.

The point remains, however, that Fair Trade is important. After all, our entire trip is working alongside the Toledo Cacao Growers Association, which is based around Fair Trade farming.

So I’m tossing out everything else and starting anew. It’s not fair that I have to write this twice, but it’s not fair that farmers around the world aren’t receiving the benefits of Fair Trade, either.

Up until last semester, I thought Fair Trade was simply something they stamped on foreign products at whole food stores to say it was organic, but Fair Trade is more than that. Up until a little more than two weeks ago, I thought Fair Trade was about paying farmers what they deserve, I mean, not cheating them out of what’s worth more because they don’t realize the intrinsic value of their product. And it is. But there’s more than that.

In my original post, I outlined the points of Fair Trade as posited by the World Fair Trade Organization, but simply going down their list didn’t make for very riveting reading. What I plan to do today, however, is to simply hit the highlights–and then if you’re interested in learning more about Fair Trade, you can traverse the Internet for more information about it than you could ever want.

Paying the Proper Price

In a way this relates to what I said when I spoke about fundraising: Money is only worth as much as we agree to make it worth, and that means it’s important that we trade amounts of money for what they’re actually worth–to both parties. Otherwise, to me, it just seems like theft, and that’s not cool for anybody.

Further, in today’s economy, I’m almost certain we all know someone who’s making less money than what they deserve to be making, and we feel for them, don’t we? These hardworking people are trying to support themselves, their families, to put food and water on their tables, have clothing and shelter–and they’re being cheated by a poorly-functioning system. The producers who benefit from Fair Trade practices are in the same situation. After all, that’s why it’s called fair trade–because it’s the right thing to do.

Building Better Businesses

We’ve all heard the comments about “I built that” and in some way we are all touched when we see just how much industry our country and even our communities have produced. At Guilford Tech I toured our Aviation Campus and saw some of the planes they had worked on and flew. Here at N.C. State I frequently copy edit stories about new technologies being developed right on campus–such as WiFox (an improvement on WiFi) or wireless energy.

It’s amazing what we can do with our resources.

By ensuring other companies are providing the developmental training their workers need (part of the Fair Trade movement), these small businesses are able to grow into greater entities; not only do they become stronger themselves, but their communities are able to enjoy the same excitement when looking at their achievements that we already know, and as that happens, once more, we see the benefits just flow outwards and impact everybody.

The WTFO takes the idea of building better businesses and moves it beyond this: They advocate member organizations to ensure safe working conditions for their employees, to safeguard the rights of women workers and promote workplace equality, and to help put an end to child labor so we can allow children to be children and play and learn the way they need to while still helping to build culture in their communities. Somewhere along the lines, I think building better businesses stops being about business and starts being about communities; as businesses succeed, they’re able to provide opportunities to others, and especially in developing areas, this can have a great and positive impact on many people in the region.

Empowering the Environment

I care a lot for the environment–after all, that’s the primary reason Belize was my first choice when I applied for the ASB program–so it makes me happy to know the WFTO encourages producers to maximize their sustainable practices and reduce their energy consumption, all things that can and will help everyone, everywhere. Mother Nature doesn’t notice political boundaries, and safeguarding the future of our planet for our children and grandchildren means tackling these issues on a global level and starting with the small things we can all affect. Fair Trade does this. It might only be a part of the solution, but it certainly isn’t holding us back–and the more Fair Trade we support, the more support our environment will gain.

Later in the week I’ll share a story about a local Fair Trade business I was able to tour, and trust me, it might change your mind about a lot of these things–all for the better, I hope. But we’ll get there when we get there, and I feel I’ve held you long enough today.

But there’s still one last thing to say.

When we buy Fair Trade, we’re not just making another purchase; we’re making a statement. We’re telling our peers and producers that we care about these practices, that we care about workforce equality and sustainability and fair pay. We care about building industry and safe working environments and protecting children from the labor force. Buying Fair Trade isn’t just moving money; it’s building opportunities, spreading potential to benefit everyone.

And if that isn’t fair, I don’t know what is.

(Please consider making a donation to help me pay for my trip to Belize to work with Fair Trade cacao growers here; for more information, click here.)

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