Socially-Conscious Consumers are Turning Increasingly to Fair Trade

By Jodi Truglio — January 08, 2013

Over the last few years, the market has been swept with all forms of labeling, which has made it a somewhat daunting task for consumers to figure out what it all means − leaving us more confused than curious. The staff at Fair Trade USA wants to make it a little easier for us to learn and understand what exactly Fair Trade is, and have written the following article for Global Looking Glass.

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. Take for example, the efforts of Edna Ruth Byler, who in the mid-1940s took to selling handiwork crafted by disadvantaged women from Puerto Rico to help lift them out of poverty. Later, a fictional Dutch character, Max Havelaar, was developed as an advocate for exploited coffee pickers. Today, Fair Trade is a global effort. Fair Trade is rooted in the idea of alleviating poverty in ways that are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.

Today, there are tens of thousands of organizations across the globe participating in some type of Fair Trade program, dealing in hundreds of different products, including coffee, chocolate, spices, clothing, body scrubs, handicrafts and more.  Supporting Fair Trade means you are not only helping farmers and farm workers earn a fair price for their goods, you are also helping farmers establish a sustainable livelihood. Beyond ensuring a fair price or wage, Fair Trade standards enable sustainable farming practices, eliminate slave labor, prohibit the use of toxic agrochemicals and GMO’s, and ensure safe working conditions.

They also require democratic decision making, provide important business training, and promote overall community development and worker empowerment. Fair Trade is a real and tangible way to make a difference in the lives of the people who work so hard to bring food to our tables. So just what are these products and where can we find them? The most easily identifiable Fair Trade products in the United States are those labelled with the Fair Trade Certified label. Fair Trade USA, based in Oakland, is a nonprofit and leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products North America. Fair Trade USA audits and certifies transactions between domestic companies and their international suppliers to guarantee that the farmers and workers producing Fair Trade Certified goods are paid fair prices and wages, work in safe conditions, protect the environment, and receive community development funds to empower and improve their communities. Fair Trade USA also educates consumers, brings new manufacturers and retailers into the Fair Trade system, and provides farming communities with tools, training and resources to thrive as international business people.

This year, Fair Trade USA embarked on a new initiative to significantly increase the impact of Fair Trade by including even more farmers and workers in the system.  Previously, Fair Trade was restricted to coffee farmers who belong to a cooperative, leaving out the millions of small farmers who were not able to join a cooperative and people who work on large coffee farms.  This initiative is called Fair Trade for All and so far the program has brought eye care and glasses to workers on a coffee farm in Brazil, and given hope to communities of farmers in Costa Rica and Colombia who had never been able to be part of Fair Trade before. Because of this change in strategy, Fair Trade USA separated from Fair trade International (FLO).  Both organizations continue to work towards the same mission and certify farmers against very similar standards. FLO, a European organization, has a different label that you may start to see on store shelves this year.

Since the movement began more than half a century ago, Fair Trade products have established a stable niche in the global marketplace. As awareness of Fair Trade grows, so does demand for fairly-traded products. Despite a stagnant global economy, sales of Fair Trade Certified products were up 75 percent in 2011 according to SPINS data. In addition, consumer awareness has quadrupled in the past 5 years and according to research from Cone Communications, 94% of consumers are likely to switch brands (assuming price and quality are similar) to one that is associated with a good cause. So what can you do as an individual? The biggest thing you can do is realize how easy it is to make a difference – to understand that our purchases, no matter how small, really do matter.  With a simple chocolate bar, banana, or cup of coffee, you can reach halfway around the world to positively impact the lives of farmers and workers – helping farming families keep their kids in school and put food on their tables.

Below are a few inspiring stories about the hardworking farmers and farm workers who grow and sew the products you love:

Life-Saving Healthcare

Hoja Verde Flower Farm – Cayambe, Ecuador

Meet Joana Quitiaquez, a 22-year-old single mother and flower worker at the Hoja Verde flower farm in Cayambe, Ecuador. Her story is a true testament to the positive effects of Fair Trade in the region. Born into a sharecropping family with five brothers and sisters and an elderly mother, Joana knows what it means to be impoverished in Ecuador. Her mother, Maria, works on a non-Fair Trade rose farm not far from Hoja Verde. There Maria makes much less money, is often forced to work 7 days a week, never receives overtime and has developed asthma from working around greenhouse fumes and pesticides.

For Joana, Fair Trade flowers changed everything. At Hoja Verde, workers not only receive higher wages and overtime pay, they also have access to free eye exams, routine medical screenings and free child care and pediatric assistance. It was through these medical services that Joana’s life was saved. Routine exams and quality care ensured that Joana’s cervical cancer was detected and treated early on in its development. With her newfound health along with a loan from Hoja Verde’s Fair Trade premium, Joana was soon able to buy a small plot of land on which to begin building her own home. “At the other farm [non-Fair Trade], they wouldn’t have done this for me,” says Joana, “but thankfully, everything turned out OK and I am still here with all of you and I continue to work.”In this case, Fair Trade provided the opportunity for Joana to begin investing in her future, in a house that was all her own.

Environmental Education

CoopeTarrazú, Costa Rica CoopeTarrazú is a coffee farming cooperative located in the central mountains of San Marcos de Tarrazú, which is perhaps the most famous coffee-growing region in Costa Rica. In 2006, CoopeTarrazú established the Coffee Culture Quality of Life Sustainability Plan to track their environmental impact, implement better practices, and create a culture of environmental respect among members and children. Using the Fair Trade premium, CoopeTarrazú has developed a program that provides trainings, capacity building, and environmental leadership to its members. The key to their program is their focus on raising awareness of ecosystems through a strong educational curriculum for both adults and children. “Before, my son never used gloves while he worked. But through the program he learned to protect himself while applying any agricultural inputs. For that I am so glad.”– William Naranjo Barrantes, Board Member of CoopeTarrazú Cooperative

 Courtesy Images: Fair Trade

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