Fair Trade & Co-ops: Setting Global Standards of Respect
What is Fair Trade?
What do coffee, chocolate, gold, cotton, and bananas have in common? At first glance, not much- but these are some of the most popular goods produced internationally and then sold in the United States. There’s also a good chance these products are used in your everyday routine: brewing a cup of morning coffee, getting dressed in your favorite shirt, sliding a special ring on your finger. But, do you know where your staple items came from? Who farmed the coffee beans for your latte, or who mined the gold for your wedding band?
Discussions and statistics about international trade are buzzing around the internet and “Fair Trade” labels can be easily spotted in grocery stores or online shops, but many consumers are still disconnected with the origin of their purchases. Low prices are tempting and it’s easy to overlook the ethical cost of producing mass quantities of retail. Learning about unethical trade practices and understanding how Fair Trade can be used as an alternative business model can help consumers make better decisions at the register.
Advancements in technology are making transactions easier than ever before. Convenient online shopping experiences make checking out as easy as one click, and shoppers can receive their purchase without ever coming in contact with another human. This automation continues to push consumers farther and farther away from who is actually creating the goods that are being purchased. For this reason, it is increasingly important for people to know where their products come from, and who is benefiting from the money used to purchase each item.
Unfortunately, and in many cases, small farmers from third world countries are working long hours and under hazardous conditions to produce a product that will be sold in the U.S. Despite their hard work, these producers have little to no say in the value of the product and struggle to maintain support for their families. The majority of the money you spend on conventionally traded items will go to the retailer and the middlemen; leaving the person who actually did the work to bring that item to your basket with far too little income.
When something is labeled as “Fair Trade”, it means the people who make the product and the buyers who bring the product to market in the U.S. are following the standards outlined by a Fair Trade organization. These standards may differ slightly depending on the certifying organization, but always exist to improve trade by promoting economic and environmental sustainability and respect.
How is Fair Trade #Cooperative?
Fair Trade workers aren’t left to fend for themselves among large corporations and middle-men. They are part of a co-op! Through the co-op, they can access credit to help grow their business, connect directly with buyers to negotiate the value of their goods, and connect with other workers in their trade to help one another grow. This video from FairTrade Canada does a great job explaining the meaning of Fair Trade and illustrates how a FairTrade coffee farmer co-op succeeds by working together.