Fair Trade Friday

On April 19, 2016, in response to House Bill 2, Target announced that transgender people are free to use whichever Target restroom they prefer. Immediately, the American Family Association (AFA) launched a petition for the boycott of Target stores. The pledge to boycott Target circulated on social media sites for weeks, gaining 1,392,372 signatures by the time this blog was being written.

No matter your stance on the transgender issue, something amazing happened as a result of the AFA Pledge to Boycott Target.

More than one million people realized that the way they spend their money matters. One million people chose to use consumerism to take a stand. One million people made the decision to vote with their wallets, using their hard earned money in attempt to provoke change.

What if…?

What if we have our priorities wrong?

What if we, society as a whole, were equally disgusted with child labor as we seem to be with homosexuality?

What if we were just as concerned about the existence of sweatshops as we are about which restroom people use?

What if we traded our hatred for the opposing political party for disdain of human trafficking and slavery?

Why are we more concerned with Target’s restroom policy than the fact that their stores may be carrying products crafted by 10 year old children in unsafe environments for little or no pay?

Where are the petitions to boycott the plethora of unethical businesses, worldwide? What about the companies that outsource their products to be made for a quarter per day in impoverished areas by mothers of starving children? Why are we not outraged by this?

Shame on us. We boycott businesses which conflict with our political and religious views, but then turn around and purchase a shirt that was produced unethically, in a dangerous workplace. We’ll wear the shirt for one season, decide we are bored with it, and then ship it off to some third world village with thousands of other articles of clothing. There, it will put a local merchant out of business because no one who is poor wants to pay for something they can get for free.  We, then, buy new shirts and the cycle continues, worsening the desperate situation where the clothing is made, as well as the places which receive the donations.

I am guilty of this. I never thought twice about where my groceries and clothing were coming from. I never wondered who had crafted my jewelry, sewn my shirts, or packaged my tea. I blindly donated to a variety of charities, intending to help end poverty. But then, I learned about Fair Trade.

I joined a direct sales business called Trades of Hope which partners with artisan groups around the world. This dignified partnership creates jobs for women, keeping them out of sweatshops and the sex trade. The goal of Trades of Hope is to empower women to support themselves and their families, and, eventually, become leaders in their communities. These artisans create beautiful jewelry, décor, and scarves, which Trades of Hope sells in the United States. Artisans are paid up front and receive 3x to 6x more than they would otherwise make in their community. I started reading the stories of some of the artisans and I was instantly amazed. Could fair trade be it? Could it be the solution to poverty? The answer is ‘no,’ not by itself, but creating jobs in poor areas is a good place to start.

The way you spend your money matters. This is becoming my mantra. Shopping fair trade is not easy, especially outside of major cities. Not everything that is fair trade has the fair trade certification sticker. Not everything with the certification sticker is entirely ethical. So, how can you determine which businesses and brands to trust? The key is to look for transparency in the business model.

Demand transparency. Force companies to evaluate their business model and their manufacturing processes. Ask hard questions. Support ethical businesses and boycott unethical businesses. Together, we can be a voice for the voiceless.

This is the first of, hopefully, many Fair Trade Fridays. At the end of each work week, I plan to post a new blog featuring a fair trade business or concept. I hope you will stay tuned as I research the options available to an ethical consumer and learn more about how fair trade is impacting the world. This has definitely been an educational experience for me, thus far, and I look forward to digging even deeper into the issues surrounding extreme poverty. Thank you for joining me and learning about #fairtrade.

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