Fair Trade is a sustainable business model. It is indeed a business that makes a fair profit for everyone involved and gives consumers a fair price for goods.
Fair Trade works with the premise that everyone, even and especially those who are oppressed for whatever reasons, should be paid fairly and treated well for the work that they do. Fair Trade works to ensure long term business relationships so that artisans and farmers know that more work will be coming. This is not like a holiday bonus. This is a consistent, fair wage in exchange for good product.
The World Fair Trade Organization has a nice description of what Fair Trade is here and the Fair Trade Federation took these principles and tweaked them to fit our context in North America. I commend them both to you.
Fair Trade doesn't change things overnight for people, but it insures betterment within a system that is sustainable. It is important that Fair Trade continues to grow so that more producing groups can have access to a fair marketplace. The alternative is haunting.
In 2012 I visited Las Colinas, a farming cooperative in El Salvador. I was a part of a group with Equal Exchange which is a US Fair Trade cooperative that buys coffee beans from farming coops around the world and then roasts and packages the coffee in Massachusetts.
After an insightful seven days of learning about the country and living with coffee farmers, our hosts graciously took two of us to visit artisan groups for three extra days. We went to some coops that had a Fair Trade outlet and one that did not.
There was a little guy about my sons' ages that had big eyes and a sweet smile with is mamma in the coop without Fair Trade sales. He kept a watchful eye on us and we were delighted by him. The thing kept nagging at me though was that he seemed extra small for his age. My boys would've looked like giants playing in the courtyard with him...
Our guide seemed gloomy as we waved goodbye to the folks in this coop. Through our travels my friend and I came to understand the struggles that this little one will have overcome. The main problem in this village isn't violence, but they're still rebuilding from a horrible civil war and don't have many resources with which to really get going. They basically eat the things that naturally grow within a mile of their village: beans, corn and bananas. They are smaller people because their nutrition is so limited. Everything seems limited there except for the kind spirit of the people.
I so wish that this coop had support for their handcrafts and a Fair Trade outlet for their work... it could make such a difference for this little guy and all of his village.
Let's each do what we can to help Fair Trade grow so that more coops like this one can have access to a consistent, fair market.
We will keep learning about business (ugh) and will provide great product options (yay!). If you could tell your friends about us and Fair Trade in general, it would be awesome. Also, whenever you are able, please buy Fair Trade. It makes a difference.