An Introduction to Fair Trade

     There are some changes underway here at Urban Orchid.  I'm in the process of moving my blog from googlesites to blogger/blogspot and while I am working on my layout/formatting it may look a bit odd.  I'll also be working on adding more items to my blog sale and if you live in Las Vegas you will soon also be able to see some items for sale on Rumgr.

     Last week, I posted about the circumstances under which some of our clothing may be made.  Sometimes we forget that our clothes didn't just magically appear in the store and then home to our closets, but that there is a whole process in sourcing the fabric and turning that into the garments on store racks.  

     One way to ensure you are shopping consciously is by looking for fair trade items.  A brand or retailer that is committed to fair trade practices will sell products that support the producers and communities in which the items are made.  These items extend further than clothing but include chocolate, coffee, tea, soap, lotion, olive oil, and almost anything you can think of.  Fair trade items may be priced higher than a typical alternative, but that is because some brands that sell at lower cost do not ensure good working conditions or living wages for the manufacturers.

Fair Trade Panel at Greenfest Los Angeles
     The principles of fair trade are creating opportunities for economically and socially marginalized producers, developing transparent and accountable relationships between producers, retailers, and consumers, paying workers fairly and promptly, improving working conditions, protecting children against forced labor, environmental stewardship, and cultural identity.

     Many fair trade co-ops, organizations, and certification groups exist to make it easier to distinguish these companies that commit themselves to fair trade practices from those that do not.

     Fairtrade International (FLO) is a non-profit organization.  The members of this organization emphasize strength in the supply chain - 1.2 million farmers and workers in 66 countries are able to organize and have a voice through FLO.  Fairtrade International acts as a global agent for change by providing strong standards for the minimums, premiums, and labor practices for each item they certify.  The standards are different for each product, but are all available online so it is clear what is required for each product.  An independent certification body checks on each product to make sure the production standards are up to par.

     The Fair Trade Federation (FTF) is a different membership organization that screens businesses committed to fair trade.  With members of the FTF, you won't see a stamp or sticker on a certain product in a store, but the business will be listed as a member of the organization.  The FTF provides third-party accountability to the business, as they do routine checks and tests to ensure the business is keeping up with membership rules.  They have a great page on the myths of fair trade here.

     Fair trade USA also provides third party auditing.  Again, this ensures that the company at hand cannot slap a fair trade logo on their product or description without really committing to being fair trade.  Zhena's Gypsy Teas was the first fair trade tea to be certified by Fair Trade USA.  Zhena (pictured in the fair trade panel photo, second from left) says that fair trade is a powerful way to connect people to products.  She is committed to a good quality product and having a good relationship with her workers.  During a time of drought in Sri Lanka, the farm from which her teas are harvested did not produce enough tea.  Rather than going to another supplier, Zhena and her usual farm made an arrangement with another farm to make up for the lack of product. 

Raise The Bar

     Consumer choice and organization can influence major corporations.  The "Raise the Bar, Hershey" campaign put pressure on Hershey to use more ethical practices in how they obtain their cocoa and manufacture their bars.  In October 2012, they announced that they will "source 100 percent certified cocoa for its global chocolate product lines by 2020 and accelerate its programs to help eliminate child labor in the cocoa regions of West Africa."  While the wording is vague, the commitment and intent is a step forward that was encouraged by consumer pressure.

     Until then, I'll continue to enjoy some of my favorite fair trade chocolates - Divine chocolate and Chocolove's Fair Trade Organic, Fair Trade Organic with Cherries, and Fair Trade Organic with Currants and Almonds bars.  

    Incorporating fair trade items into your home doesn't have to be expensive or happen all at once.  Next time you wear out an item, try to replace it with a fair trade item.  Make fair trade coffee at the office and see how many people would be encouraged to do the same.  Tis the season - give fair trade gifts from candles, soaps, lotions, jewelry, scarves, and more - a fair trade gift would mean so much not only to your giftee but also to the community of the producer of that gift.