After the Bangladesh factory collapse, horrible images circulated widely detailing the story of more than 1,000 people dying in an unimaginable tragedy. This one incident seemed to wake people up to the horrors of indentured and slave labor and woefully underpaid workers. The major news sources including Time, the London Globe, Huffington Post, as well as countless other media, took up the cause of these abused laborers. The ethics of the clothing companies came into question. Stock markets were affected.
For a week.
This is just one example of a greedy Free trade market. Free trade was not designed to be greedy. The human desire for more for less has gotten out of control.
On the flip side, then, is fair trade. October is International Fair Trade Month. It is designed to educate consumers on the reasons behind buying fair trade products. So, why fair trade and what makes it different?
Which would you purchase? A white shirt made in Indonesia selling for $14.99 with a "designer label" or a white shirt made in Indonesia for $25 which has a fair trade designation? Why do you think there is such a discrepancy?
Fair trade helps disenfranchised workers.
The $25 shirt with fair trade certification was sewn by a man or woman working in a co-operative or in their home. It could be in any of the countries mentioned above. The co-ops are usually in the villages where they live. Their children go to school wearing uniforms that they were able to purchase with their fair and regular wages. Women are empowered to make decisions. They often work in open air facilities and select leaders from their peers. They are given a say, and vote on, improving their communities. Often, the overseeing fair trade organization provides dollars for the cooperative to spend as they deem needed. This provides for health care and teachers, wells and electricity. To be fair trade Certified, inspectors visit regularly to be sure that the facility is safe and that the environment is "healthy."
Whereas free trade often times hurts disenfranchised workers.
The $14.99 shirt was most likely sewn by a woman or child in India or Bangladesh or China or Vietnam or any other developing country. That worker was probably paid pennies a day, often working 12 to 15 hours. That worker probably needs to travel far from home and rarely is able to get home, usually because of the seven day work weeks. That worker has no access to health care, no access to education, no access to clean air, no access to what we would call -- life. The company that bought that shirt probably paid $2 or $3 for it. Then, after shipping and taxes, probably put a $25 price tag on it so that it could be "discounted" to $14.99.
Fair trade is empowering beyond just money and goods.
Fair trade empowers disenfranchised artisans in developing countries. It enables people to create products for which they receive fair and regular pay. It empowers the artisan producers to plan for the future; to plan for their children's education, buy uniforms for school, provide wells in the communities and to be proud of their accomplishments.
Fair trade began in Puerto Rico.
Fair trade began in 1946 when Edna Ruth Byler imported handcrafts from low income women in Puerto Rico and displaced people in Europe. This became the foundation for Ten Thousand Villages, North America's first fair trade organization and the United States' first retail fair trade store. The concept has been around a while.
Fair trade helps alleviate forced child labor worldwide.
The system works with women and children who have been rescued from slavery, sexual and forced labor. These women and men are given education and career training so that they can live forward. With pride. People with disabilities, physical and mental, are taught new skills.
All Fair trade employees work in environmentally safe and secure conditions.
Most work in their homes, villages or cooperatives. There is no forced child labor. Fair trade farmers use eco-friendly farming practices and artisans are encouraged to use raw natural materials or recycled items to minimize their environmental footprint. Traditional arts are kept alive and taught to the next generations.
Fair Trade is collaborative.
Fair trade partnerships are longstanding and ongoing and encourage discourse between producers and buyers. Farmers and artisans are involved in the entire process, and fair trade products reflect the people and cultures they come from.
In choosing to buy fair trade products, you are making a difference in the lives of the people who grow and craft the products, and you are purchasing high quality products. Learn about the artisans and their families. I encourage you to travel the world, virtual or on the ground, and find organizations which are working to give guidance and world wide availability to these products. These are just a few of the affirming qualities which are a part of fair trade.
And so, the question remains: Which shirt would you buy?
Correction: An earlier version misstated the number of people who died in the Bangladesh factory collapse.
Christine Prois is the owner of Earthingsstore.com.