Measuring Fair Trade
According to Paul Rice, co-founder of Fair Trade USA, 20% of Americans know about fair trade and about 10% actively support it by buying fair trade products. The percentage of people aware of and buying fair trade in Europe is much higher. Watch this short video where he explains why fair trade is important in agricultural products:
What exactly is fair trade? In short, fair trade seeks to give producers ownership over their labor by accessing markets directly. Fair trade (also called alternative trade) production also seeks to address environmental and social issues. This approach arose out of a protest against mainstream models that continue to this day where corporations and manufacturers relocated to third world countries seeking the cheapest labor and lowest environmental standards possible. Fair trade organizations believe that by empowering the poor through fair treatment, we all benefit by increased world stability, safer products, and better management of our resources. Fair trade groups include agricultural producers and craft production. Fair trade coffee has achieved the most success in accessing market visibility.
What does this have to do with textiles and fiber art? Historically, textile and other craft traditions have been made by small farmers, peasants, and villagers around the world during the slow times of the growing seasons. The materials used by the makers were grown by them or harvested locally. The same issues that confront the green movement and fair labor laws for growers holds true for our basic textile and fiber art materials: cotton, wool, flax, straw, and everything else that we use to make our products.
There are several key players in the fair trade movement. Let’s take a look at how each of them defines fair trade through their mission statements:
The World Fair Trade Organization (formerly known as IFAT) is the global network of Fair Trade Organizations. Their mission is to enable producers to improve their livelihoods and communities through Fair Trade. From their site:
The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) is the global representative body of over 450 members committed to 100% Fair Trade. The WFTO is the authentic voice of Fair Trade and a guardian of Fair Trade values.
The WFTO operates in 75 countries across 5 regions; Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and North American and the Pacific Rim, with elected global and regional boards, to create market access through policy, advocacy, campaigning, marketing and monitoring. It is the only global network whose members represent the Fair Trade chain from production to sale.
The Fair Trade Federation (FTF) is an international association of businesses and non-profit organizations that are fully committed to fair trade. Members strive to sell 100% fairly traded product and to create positive employment opportunities for economically- disadvantaged artisans and farmers worldwide.
FTF seeks to alleviate global poverty through the promotion of trading practices based on principles of social and economic justice. It strengthens the capacity of members by providing information about: fair trade principles and practices, fair trade and commercial market opportunities, and financial and technical assistance to ensure the growth and development of member businesses. The Federation encourages communication and information exchange among producers, wholesalers, retailers, and other organizations. FTF also raises awareness about the importance of purchasing fairly traded products and supporting businesses committed to fair trade principles.
EFTA (the European Fair Trade Association) is an association of Fair Trade importers in Europe. EFTA was established informally in 1987 by some of the oldest and largest Fair Trade importers. It gained formal status in 1990.
The aim of EFTA is to support its member organizations in their work and to encourage them to cooperate and coordinate. It facilitates the exchange of information and networking, it creates conditions for labour division and it identifies and develops joint projects. It does this, among others, by organizing meetings of the members (on food, handicrafts, marketing, managers) and by circulating relevant information to them. It is also maintaining a database of EFTA suppliers, called Fairdata, which contains details on suppliers and their products. EFTA has an office in Brussels which is responsible for the execution of the Fair Procura project, funded by the EU; the aim of this project is to make public authorities and institutional buyers local actors of sustainable development.
Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) is an umbrella organization that unites Labelling Initiatives and Producer Networks representing Fairtrade Certified Producer Organizations in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
FLO is the leading standard setting and certification organization for labelled Fairtrade. Products carry the Fairtrade Certification Mark as the independent consumer guarantee that producers in the developing world get a better deal.
Fairtrade Certified Products have helped build economic independence and empowerment for Fairtrade Certified small farmer organizations and their members, bringing them economic stability and a higher standard of living. Beyond being paid a fair price (Fairtrade Minimum Price) for their produce, the Fairtrade Premium helps producers to build necessary social infrastructures.
Are you confused yet? All of these organizations are membership driven and emerged from different needs people had since the push for fair trade began in the 1970’s. Label recognition and membership alliances are both important tools to help customers access fair trade products. But, it is a bit difficult to keep all the labels straight.
Co-op America’s National Green Pages is an excellent resource for people who want to find fair trade products online or in their area. Click on their logo and you will see the search results for fair trade members. If you are not familiar with the Green Pages, do explore it. Members include all kinds of businesses that have a green agenda, including banks, financial institutions, phone services, and so on. It is appropriate that fair trade groups ally themselves with green or eco organizations as they normally share a common vision of environmental sustainability.
There have been many bumps along the road of fair trade history. Because it is a movement, groups differ greatly in how they are structured, the quality of products they deliver and how much of an impact they actually have in the lives of the people they represent. Aid to Artisans came into existence as a response to the need for design and marketing guidance.
“Aid to Artisans, a nonprofit organization, offers practical assistance to artisan groups worldwide, working in partnerships to foster artistic traditions, cultural vitality, improved livelihoods and community well-being. Through collaboration in product development, business skills training and development of new markets, Aid to Artisans provides sustainable economic and social benefits for craftspeople in an environmentally sensitive and culturally respectful manner.”
How does one measure the success of fair trade efforts?
Fair does not mean having a wage comparable to that of an American. (Although now the dollar is so low that there might actually be some leveling out here.) Many of the producers working with fair trade organizations are women. These women often face specific cultural and gender challenges in what kind of income potential they can have. For example, a friend working with women in India, talked about how the men resented their women making more than them. Or, men would beat the women and take the salaries for their own use. Other forms of payment often have to be made that are culturally appropriate. Fair trade means looking at the whole picture: educational opportunities, clean water, clinics, and other amenities that can serve the whole neighborhood or village are often what producers want. In order to bring these services to fruition, a fair trade group must have a long relationship with its producers. It takes years to navigate all the political and economic hoops that constrain many of these communities. War and local rebellions are another factor that also disrupt economic advancement.
So, in deciding which organizations and products to support, I would look at their track record and see if they document any of their real accomplishments. Most of the websites have testimonials by their producers and many have been around now for twenty or more years. Each of us has to decide whether a group is accomplishing its mission or not, but all of them need support to even have the chance to succeed. One thing is for certain, sweat shops, child labor and other slave like operations do nothing to better our world. Violence is one of the options people resort to when they are fed up with being used. Promoting and supporting fair trade makes the world safer for all of us. It also helps make better use of our resources. Poverty is not only financial. It is social and environmental.
TAFA Fair Traders
I am pleased to report that we have many fair trade groups who are members of TAFA. Click to see them on our site.
As our members are vetted in, I check their sites and can usually get a pretty good sense of what people are doing. It’s inspiring and hopeful to see all of the good work that is happening all over the world! Not only are life conditions improving, but the quality of the work being made is just wonderful! Here are just a few examples (Click on the images to visit their profiles):
Shopping fair trade and going green is a win-win recipe for the world. It lessens the misery for all of us, let’s Mother Earth breathe a bit easier. Yes, fair trade products are usually more expensive than what can be found at Wal-Mart. Education needs to happen about how we spend, what is worth buying and what goes into making something worthwhile. Fair trade is not only about poverty in other countries, it’s about what is happening in our own back yards. We can support local initiatives as well as those happening somewhere else. How each of us participates in this will determine the final measure of how we succeed as being good stewards of our resources with justice as our map.
Do you have any favorite fair trade products that you enjoy? Groups that you like? We love getting comments, so don’t be shy!
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