“Every business transaction is a challenge to see that both parties come out fairly.” —Adam Smith, 1759
Every item that we buy comes from somewhere, and many people were involved in bringing it to you. If it is something that is widely used and distributed, or part of global commerce, it is worth being aware of its origins and the policies and methods that have brought that item to you. This can be especially important when it comes to items brought here en masse from developing nations.
As Americans, we can be apathetically unaware that people may be dying for us to have our everyday comforts—like a cup of coffee or our cellphones. Most are completely unaware that, for instance, cellphones contain the mineral cobalt, which is mainly mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There has been much controversy in DRC, especially over the issue of child soldiers, and the cobalt mining industry is wrought with human rights issues. We use our cellphones everyday, but we do not think of the people in the Congo everyday.
When something is “fair trade,” the exchange of that item is based on the ideals of social and economic justice. Fair trade is meant to empower marginalized people—vulnerable artisans, workers, and farmers from less-industrialized nations—and improve the quality of their lives.
What sort of goods are we talking about? Bananas, tea, coffee, coconut oil, shea butter, palm oil, sugar, flowers, quinoa, and even soaps and lotions. Everyone is talking about the amazing health benefits of quinoa these days, and quinoa has become ubiquitous. However, quinoa is predominantly imported from Bolivia, and the increase in demand has created much controversy for the farmers and people of Bolivia. The main issue the wrecking of traditional and sustainable farming practices—so we have health at a cost. The cost is for the producer.
While these facts may seem dismal, there is something we can all do about it. How we choose to spend our dollars is how we vote for the world in which we would like to live. Choosing products that are certified as fair trade is making a choice for the following:
- Support for the communities and local economies that produce the goods, as they have a chance to make profit from their exports, and the money can be invested back in to their schools, health care, and quality of life. Profits stay in the community.
- Fair pay to farmers and safe and healthy working environments.
- Sustainable farming, which ensures soil fertility and preserves natural ecosystems. Fair trade also certifies the limiting of the use of harmful and dangerous agrochemicals, thus lessening the carbon footprint.
- High quality and often handcrafted products that improve the life of both the farmer and the consumer.
Look for labels from the Fair Trade Federation or the World Fair Trade Organization, or labels that say “Fair Trade Certified.” Find out more from FairWorldProject.org. Find a list of excellent companies that practice fair trade by visiting the sites of Green America or Fair Trade USA.
April Dawn Reigart, AADP, is a certified holistic health coach (CHHC) who studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. For more information see https://www.facebook.com/AlphaDeltaRomeo.