Fair trade deserves a fair shot

Conscious consumerism is a hot topic and source for critical evaluation. Many decry those that claim to be critical consumers as individuals who are just looking to boost their ego or fall into what’s the new ‘trendy’ thing to do. Despite this pessimistic view, there are many out there that have a passion for making a difference and do their best to leave a smaller footprint. At Loras in the Peace and Justice Department you will not find a group looking to aggrandize themselves. If you have had the time or met individuals involved in Peace and Justice, you would know that they are a group of faculty and students that strive to make a difference on campus and in the Dubuque area. One of the initiative Loras P&J focuses on is making sure Loras stays a Fair Trade Campus.

In a recent edition of The Lorian, an article was published that presented some of the potential cons of fair trade. It explained how farmers must pay to become Fair Trade Certified and portrayed this in a negative light. However, the article failed to cite the benefits that come to farmers for joining a fair trade cooperative. While there are pros and cons to every system, it is important to present both sides of a movement so that everyone can make their own judgments. As many know, no system is perfect. If they were, then that would be how it’s done, no debate. Fortunately, this article is here to present both sides of fair trade so that you, the audience, can decide if it’s the kind of movement you can stand behind with confidence.

When most people think of fair trade, they automatically assume that the only products that can be certified are coffee, chocolate, bananas and clothing. While these are some of the most commonly certified goods, there are many, many more. While the list is extensive, some of the other goods include honey, herbs and spices, beans and grains, body care goods, seafood, wine, nuts and so much more that we use every day.

Fair trade is a global movement whose goal is to provide better goods, better working conditions, and fair wages to the farmers. This initiative includes a mission of empowerment for the farmers, economic development for their communities, as well as social development and teaching and applying environmental stewardship to farmers and workers around the world.

To break this down a bit, empowerment includes transparent decision-making with the farmers, group decision making on how the community premiums are spent, and training in workplace safety, freedom from discrimination and financial management. Economic development includes forming stable business partnerships, predetermined premiums and a guaranteed minimum price that focuses on increasing wages. The social responsibility aspect of fair trade is one of the most important and includes prohibiting child labor, establishing health and safety measures that were previously absent such as guaranteed access to healthcare and to education. Many of these benefits that we often taken for granted are not normally accessible to the farmers and workers where their government does not regulate the industry or provide minimum wage standards. Joining a fair trade Cooperative guarantees the farmers access to what we consider essential to maintaining human dignity and basic rights. The environmental stewardship ensures that no toxic chemical are used, pest management strategies, responsible waste management, protection of ecological diversity, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

This may seem to be a hefty list of requirements and promised guarantees, but it is all possible. This can be seen by the thousands of farmers and workers around that globe that have attained fair trade status for themselves and their community. The previous article stated that fair trade revenue was often used for office renovation and to pay salaries. However, Fair Trade USA, the most common cooperative in the US, is a government certified non-profit, so all salaries and spending are necessary for its development. They make it possible for the farmers to thrive in an international business market.

Now, to figure out exactly where your dollar is going, here are some of the benefits that farmers and workers in a fair trade Cooperative receive: school supplies, clean water, women’s programs, micro-loans, nutrition education, health exams, organic training, workplace safety, and so much more.

Fair trade may be the ‘trendy’ thing to do these days, but take a moment to look past the trend and see what’s really going on when you buy items that are labeled fair trade or have another certification like Rainforest Alliance. Being a conscious consumer does not mean just doing what you think is right, but really taking a moment to research and understand where your goods are coming from. These certifications may make it seem easy, but take time for your own examination and understand where your clothes, food, and everyday items really come from, who produces them, and how they are made. If it seems agreeable to you, maybe give fair trade a fair chance.

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