As the owner of a growing Fair Trade shop in Northern Kentucky, I have plenty of opportunities to talk with people about what Fair Trade is, as well as what it isn't. While I definitely find that the general public's awareness of sweatshops, unfair working conditions, and the exploitation of workers is increasing, a majority of the people I meet really don’t understand what the Fair Trade movement is and what it works to accomplish.
Buying Fair Trade isn’t About Charity
One of the most common questions we hear at “It's only Fair!” is "If I buy this, how much of the money will go back to the person who made it?" While I do understand that this question springs from the heart of someone who is concerned that their purchase will actually benefit the artisan, it also hints of a mistaken assumption that what we are doing somehow involves charity. That we are donating some amount of money back to the people who create our products once they are sold.
In reality, everything in our shop has already been paid for. Each artisan is paid for their work up front, in full, and in every case they have received a fair, "living" wage. That is quite different from waiting for a donation, or hoping things sell so that you will be paid eventually.
I wholeheartedly believe that there is certainly a time and a place for charity and for giving to those who are less fortunate than we are. However, Fair Trade is not about charity. It is more about job creation and empowering an artisan to be able to earn a sustainable living. We firmly believe that job creation is the only long term solution to world poverty, and that being able to earn a sustainable income is what will break the cycle of poverty and enable those once trapped in it to create new lives and brighter futures for themselves, their families, and sometimes entire communities.
We all know there is nothing more satisfying than working hard, being proud of a job well done, and being able to provide for one's own family. Honest work creates dignity and self-worth, and each one of us deserves that opportunity.
Fair Trade is Life Giving
Fair Trade also means way more than just knowing an item wasn't made in a sweat-shop or with child labor. It means that the exchange of goods is done in a way that ensures every person involved in the making of your products is treated "fairly". They are paid a fair wage, they have access to clean and safe facilities, health care, and the product they produce will be exchanged based on principles of economic and social justice.
- Fair Trade ensures fair pay and good working conditions for everyone on the production line.
- Fair Trade upholds children's rights to security, education, and play. It ensures that there is never child labor used in production.
- It protects and supports local communities where products are made and helps them become sustainable.
- Ensures focus on environmental responsibility.
- It enhances and improves the lives of artisans.
- Fair Trade empowers women and the disadvantaged.
- It connects you in a responsible way with other cultures.
- And Fair Trade makes what you purchase matter! It enables you to connect with someone on the other side of the planet whose life is being changed by your purchase. In a very real way we become part of the stories of hope, change and freedom that are being written all over the world.
Preventing Human Trafficking
In addition, I passionately believe that fair trade PREVENTS human trafficking. While I personally am involved in the anti-trafficking movement locally and also support the work of human rights groups involved in both rescue work as well as aftercare, I can’t help but believe that preventing trafficking and the trauma it causes BEFORE it happens is just as important. And clearly it just makes so much sense. Many of our partners around the world are working to do exactly that, they are creating jobs for vulnerable women who would otherwise most likely end up trafficked or trapped working in a brothel somewhere.
Vocational training and job opportunity are also necessary parts of aftercare and recovery for those who are survivors of trafficking. Without viable work options that are able to support her or him, a survivor could easily end up right back where she or he started. Or in an even worse situation.
If a mother in Cambodia is able to earn a fair wage sewing handbags, she will no longer see selling her oldest daughter in order to feed her other children as her only option. I hear people argue that women sometimes “choose” a life of prostitution, for themselves or their daughters, but until there are other options I don’t believe it is really a “choice”.
And when a family is finally able to afford to send their children to school, that truly changes everything, not just for them but for future generations.
If a woman in India has the opportunity to earn a good wage making jewelry then she won’t fall prey to a trafficker's empty offer of a job far away. Extreme poverty is one of the things that makes a woman so vulnerable, and the jobs which are being created by the Fair Trade movement are a huge part of the solution.
At “It's only Fair!” we believe that the choices we make as consumers really do matter. Something as simple as choosing to buy Fair Trade coffee may not seem like much to us, but to the farmer who grew that coffee it means everything! What we do at the store sometimes just feels like a drop in the bucket, but to the woman who made my earrings, or the scarf I am wearing it means hope for a brighter tomorrow. School for her children. The promise of a better future.
We have a sign in one of our store windows that says "Every time you spend money you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want." Each time you get out your wallet you are indeed voting, so I hope you take the time to think about the kind of world you want to live in, and what you want to support. I hope you choose to make your vote count!
Reegan Hill is proof that an ordinary, unlikely person can join the fight against Human Trafficking and make a difference. After learning about the issue, working locally as a volunteer with PATH (Partnership against the Trafficking of Humans), and travel focused on trafficking overseas, Hill and her daughter, Marissa opened "It's only Fair!", a local Fair Trade shop that works to create jobs and income for survivors and women who are at risk because of poverty and lack of vocational options. For more information visit https://www.facebook.com/ItsOnlyFair or It’s only Fair! in MainStrasse Village in Covington, KY.
Over the past three years we’ve learned a lot about labor abuse, human trafficking and how spending money thoughtfully can create a huge impact. Here are some of the questions I'm asked most frequently and what I understand today!