a beginner's take on buying fair trade

There are a plethora of words we tend to throw around when buying more consciously and making a positive impact, one of those being buying fair trade. It seems like it’s fairly straight-forward when making purchases, but is it really?
Today I’m here to give you the down-low on everything involving buying fair trade. As with most things, it’s more complicated than meets the eye. We’ll go through everything based on common questions people are asking in the hopes we’ll come out of this more knowledgeable and aware of what this all means.

So what is fair trade?

In classic dictionary-like form, the definition of fair trade is the following: “a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers.” 
That comes straight from the World Fair Trade Organization that ensures companies selling products and services are doing so with the highest standards. Buying fair trade goes beyond individual materials, however, by fighting for greater world justice in labor and against poverty, climate change and economic crisis.

Why should I care?

As a consumer, your dollar is a vote. You’re choosing to support a company or business by buying from them, thereby accepting whatever standards and practices they uphold. And if you’re not aware of the power and potential you hold, then you could end up perpetuating greater harm than you intend.
What you pay at the cash register translates from the materials and labor going into that product. To keep up with the demands of capitalism, a system constantly toting more cheaper products at faster rates, companies cut ends by mistreating the source of their production. Corporations typically source overseas to drive down costs and maximize profits. By using their immense bargaining power, they take advantage of weak government regulations and exploit cheap labor, often with no regard for the social and environmental impact on local communities.
A major example of how dangerous conventional trade can be is the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse. 1,135 people died when the factory complex, built on swampy ground, failed structurally. Considered the deadliest accidental structural failure in modern human history, the event sparked demands for greater safety in the country known for duty-free access to western markets and low wages for its workers.

What are some fair trade companies?

When it comes to food, a comprehensive list is found on Fair Trade America‘s website. A list from End Slavery Now also lists options for clothing, jewelry, and home goods. Some quick online searches will leave you stumbling across many different resources and lists of places ethical stores and products galore. Just be prepared, especially when it comes to clothing, to pay a bit more than you’re used to.

Does buying fair trade make a significant impact?

Today, Fair Trade certified products originating in more than 45 countries are being sold in the United States. Last year, Fair Trade empowered 1.6 million farmers and workers in countries across Africa, Asia, Oceania, Latin America, and the Caribbean to reach better terms with their trading partners. These terms prevent big name corporations from taking advantage of developing countries’ economies, human rights, and environment.
This doesn’t go without saying there are flaws in the fair trade system as it currently stands. Buying fair trade ensures the buyer of a particular product must pay the farmer or worker enough to cover the cost of growing their crop or the market value for their goods, as well as adding a premium to invest in improved production. However, only a fraction of fair trade farmers are in the most impoverished countries, and long-term benefits of this system have yet to be quantified. Also, official Fair Trade certification guarantees the buyer’s price, but not necessarily the percentage of the final sale profits that the farmer receives. That means big companies cash in on consumer altruism to make bigger profits on Fair Trade goods.

So is it worth it? 

This is up to you to decide. I can see the arguments on both sides that, while well-intentioned to support anything that is more ethical and conscious, you inevitably come across problems when those good intentions become exploited themselves. That’s not fair to the producers or the consumers.
I do think it’s worth your time exploring what buying fair trade has to offer and looking into individual stores themselves for their policies and practices, buying small when possible, there are also other ways we can help put an end to exploitative, unjust labor and unnecessary environmental harm. Not only can we simply spread awareness about the impact of our purchases and the companies we support, but we can also devote that extra money we might give paying for fair trade certified products toward effective charities fighting global poverty and supporting human rights for all.
Whatever floats your boat, as long as you’re going about it as a conscious consumer advocating for what’s important: our planet and every living being on it.
Mindful meditation: God, the incredible breadth of creation Your hand has touched forever astounds us, but we are guilty of not valuing its worth. Guide us to make conscientious, thoughtful decisions each day to love every neighbor, near and far. Amen.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie
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