By Sally Scime, Harmony Moon
Buy Local or Buy Fair Trade? Which would you choose? Unfortunately there are some who seem to think that the Fair Trade Movement is not compatible with Buy Local campaigns. Not so! The two movements complement each other well and in this article, I make the case why that is so.
At its heart, fair trade is a partnership based on respect for the worker. It is an international trading alliance between producers in developing countries and the importers, retailers, and consumers that purchase their goods. In fair trade organizations there is a commitment to paying a living wage, providing safe working conditions, job training, and access to healthcare, as well as a commitment to not use child labor or forced labor.
The Fair Trade movement had its beginnings in 1946 when Edna Ruth Byler visited Puerto Rico; where she saw women making beautiful lace. In spite of their grueling work schedules, the women and their families lived in grinding poverty. She brought some lace creations back to the United States, sold them, and then returned the money to the Puerto Rican women. Her work eventually grew into Ten Thousand Villages, the largest fair trade retailer in North America. As of 2012, revenues from fair trade goods worldwide are estimated to be close to $6 billion with a 20% growth rate over 2011 (Fair Trade International).
Fair trade makes a real difference to workers living in developing countries. Fair trade lifts entire families out of poverty, empowers women, allows children to go to school, and raises the health and wellness of the whole community. So why are Fair Trade and Buy Local Movements a good match? Here are a few reasons:
(1) Rise of the Socially Conscious Consumer
More and more shoppers are questioning where and how the products they buy are made. At the convergence offair trade, green, and buy local movements, is a large and growing group of socially conscious consumers. They want to know that the goods they buy are made in a fair, sustainable, and socially just way; and that the goods they buy are not only good for them but also healthy for the planet.
This is not a market to ignore. According to a 2012 Nielson survey, 46% of consumers worldwide were willing to pay more for goods and services from companies that give back to society. Two causes that these consumers indicated they were most interested in are environmental sustainability and programs to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
(2) Rise of Global Sustainable Communities
Unlike sweat-shop produced goods, fair trade does not take jobs away from Americans. As workers in fair trade organizations receive a living wage and greater benefits, it makes it less advantageous for manufacturers to take jobs overseas. At the same time, as workers in other countries are lifted out of poverty, it provides a global market for American-made goods. Fair Trade contributes to sustainable communities worldwide, moving towards the ideal of each community capitalizing on its unique production skills and freely engaging in trade with other global sustainable communities in a fair, equitable, and respectful manner.
(3) Shining a Light on Business Practices of Chain Stores
The Fair Trade movement shines a light on the business practices – both here and abroad - of big box stores. Not only are their workers in developing countries exploited and required to work under harsh and unsafe conditions but American workers of big box stores are also often underpaid, overworked, and disrespected in a multitude of ways. In addition, chains stores take much of the economic wealth of a community, out of the community. By some estimates, locally-owned shops return to their local communities as much as three times per dollar of revenue than chain stores do.
(4) Compatibility of Buy Local and Fair Trade
It is possible to buy local and fair trade. Most fair trade retailers are, in fact, locally-owned independent shops. Local producers also have the option of using fair trade goods in their products. For example, a local bakery can choose to use fair trade flour and sugar in their baked goods. A local chocolatier can use fair trade cocoa in their confections. A local coffee shop can use fair trade coffee beans. A dressmaker can use organic fair trade cotton. You get the idea.
So back to our original question: should you Buy Local or Buy Fair Trade? The correct answer is BOTH! The two movements are NOT incompatible but can work hand-in-hand to strengthen local economies.
About the Author
Sally Scimé is owner of a Staunton, VA-based independent gift shop, Harmony Moon, where Fair Trade and Made in the USA peacefully co-exist.