Call me idealistic but I believe that business should be fair. Tales of impoverished indigenous peoples laboring for pennies a day in factories built to create more clothing, electronics and household goods inspires me to repeat myself: Business should be fair.
The rising popularity of fair trade goods is a welcome reminder that more and more people are using their wallets to make that sentiment true.
Not surprisingly, while fair trade is a quickly growing business designation, many consumers still don't know that fair trade is a term for the direct relationship between consumers and producers. In a fair trade relationship, craftsmen and buyers work together to ensure that products are created using eco-friendly business practices and materials and a fair price is then paid for those products.
Sounds simple, right? Then why, am I often asked, isn't everyone doing business this way? Why is the phrase "it's just business" still synonymous with cutthroat transactions and dirty dealing? The answer is as simple as it is saddening: mass-made products are cheaper. Cheaper to make, which puts more money in the pockets of the distributors and cheaper to sell, which means more units are bought. The cost no one sees is that of the ruined lives of the child laborers, the deteriorating health of those workers forced to labor in unsafe conditions, and the exhausting working hours that have become a part of their lives.
Fair Trade products are often made using traditional methods and materials, which serves to keep cultures alive and vibrant. This brings us together as a global community, something I value immensely. These business practices don't have to be limited to those craftsmen producing products in exotic locales. Western business owners can incorporate fair trade principles into their own sustainable operations.
One tenet of fair trade business that I admire is the intent of distributors to empower disenfranchised populations through commerce. My own business practices are focused on empowering the disenfranchised communities in the New York area. We employ men and women from minority and immigrant populations, and with the help of financial and education community partners, we give them the tools they need to create the lives they want. In return, our employees are loyal, hard-working and eager to pay forward the education and training we've provided. Each of them has in turn made wide-reaching changes in their personal development as a result.
As a sustainable business owner, I've been fortunate to have the opportunity to introduce elements of fair trade into my company philosophy, but creating a fair trade economy is not just the responsibility of business owners like me. Consumers can also help build a fair trade economy just by purchasing fair trade products. If you believe as I do, that all business should first be fair, please join me in creating change using the most powerful tool in the world: your wallet.
This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.