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It’s Only Fair – Shop smart to promote the American way

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A high school friend once made me a birthday card. The once-folded printer paper was plastered with images of Bono, alone and with his aesthetically pleasing U2 bandmates. On the front, my friend identified a condition I’ve suffered from most of my life: Bononucleosis.

That’s right. Bononucleosis.

My love for Bono has outlasted presidents, decades, and most of my non-imaginary relationships. If Bono’s voice is one of the last things I hear before I die, I’ll be a lot more likely to rest in peace. (Preferably if that voice is singing anything from “Joshua Tree,” but beggars can’t be choosers.)

Bono’s voice has effected change far more profound than giving goosebumps to a wacky American woman. His name is now as synonymous with fighting poverty as it is with fronting U2. And in 2005, he and his (lucky) wife Ali Hewson launched EDUN, a clothing company with sustainability as much of a goal as style.

I heard Bono interviewed about this company. Essentially, he said that when you buy EDUN clothing, you know no one was mistreated, harmed, or exploited in the production of what you wear.

Makes sense, right? But wait a minute. If products like this are the exception, what does that imply about the vast majority of imported products on the market today? If we have to designate products “Fair Trade Certified,” to guarantee workers reap the benefits of sales, what is happening to workers who are denied such benefits? Do we ultimately value money more than we value life?

Influenced as always by Bononucleosis, I decided to find out more about fair trade.

According to the non-profit TransFair USA, Fair Trade Certification is currently available in the U.S. for coffee, tea and herbs, cocoa and chocolate, fresh fruit, sugar, rice, and vanilla.

TransFair USA’s vision statement is logical and inspiring:

“We seek to empower and enrich the lives of family farmers and workers around the world. Ours is a market-based approach to ending poverty, an alternative to dependency on aid. We believe farmers should get a fair price for their harvest, and workers deserve safe working conditions, a decent living wage and the right to organize. Through direct, equitable trade, farming and working families are able to eat better, keep their kids in school, improve health and housing, and invest in the future. Strong families, vibrant local economies, support for the natural environment, sustainable community development, and hope for the future — these are the results we seek through Fair Trade.”

While the U.S. is no workers’ utopia, at least we can expect financial compensation. Our school-aged children are educated, not exploited. We work in respectable environments, where safety is monitored. If any of these expectations are not met, we have legal recourse to protect our rights.

But too often, working conditions we wouldn’t tolerate for our citizens are perpetuated in other countries, as a direct result of American consumerism. If we won’t accept sub-human working conditions here, how can we allow them elsewhere?

Here’s the good news: as fair trade awareness increases, local availability of fair trade products likewise increases. Now, you’ll find certified products at several national retailers, plus a handful of local stores.

So every time you sip a cup of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Organic French Roast from Whole Foods Co-op, you’re rewarding coffee farmers for their hard work and commitment to sustainable methods. With every savory bite of an Ithaca Fine Chocolates Art Bar from Glass Grower’s Gallery, you’re financially supporting positive change in cocoa farmers’ villages. What you’re not doing is stealing money-making opportunities from American farmers. According to the Fair Trade Federation, “Most fair trade commodities, such as coffee and cocoa, do not have North American-based alternatives.”

Purchasing locally-produced foods and products is ideal. But in today’s import-heavy marketplace, it’s not always possible. For products to be available at low prices, costs had to be cut somewhere. With fair trade products, we can rest assured that those cuts affected surplus middlemen, not hard-working farmers and their families.

It’s about helping, not hurting. It’s about valuing all lives, not just the ones that look like us. And it’s an excuse to eat great chocolate.

Surely Bono would approve of that.

For more information and resources: www.transfairusa.org or www.fairtradefederation.org

3 Comments

  1. Andrew Farias

    Well put. There are so many things I’d like to communicate about fair trade but have trouble finding the right way to do it. Thanks for the eloquent and inspiring words.

  2. Jeff Goldman

    I am delighted to see strong support from celebrities such as Paul McCartney, Desmond Tutu, Annie Lenox, and others for Fair Trade, and World Fair Trade Day 2009. Check out a complete list on World Fair Trade Organization’s website.

  3. I loved the post! Our buying choices are as much a political and philosophical statement as they are just getting what we need. Our connectedness is what we’ve lost. Could we really buy what we buy if we knew the affect it was having on people half a world away?

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