World of Good, the socially responsible marketplace that was acquired by eBay in 2010, recently took a trip down to Guatemala to visit some of its artisan suppliers and to get a better sense of the social and political climate in which they operate. I spoke with Siddharth Sanghvi, co-founder of World of Good, about the trip and some of the impacts of fair trade — and since today, May 14, happens to be World Fair Trade Day, it’s a good time to dig a little deeper into the topic.
The World Fair Trade Organization, the group behind World Fair Trade Day, describes the day as “a global event to celebrate the achievements of Fair Trade and promote fairness in trading practices for the benefit of all.”
Fair trade improves livelihoods in some ways that are measurable, and some ways that are not. The boost to a family that is able to better feed, clothe, and care for itself is tough to quantify. But a newly certified bell pepper farm in Mexico reports that the average agricultural worker earns 140 pesos (about $13) a day — about twice the Mexican minimum wage.
On the ground, increases in income translate into real-life changes like more children getting an education, for example, because they can afford uniforms, books, and the transportation costs of getting to school. If a fair trade program doesn’t work directly with a community center or education program, the economic benefits alone are enough to improve livelihoods.
It Takes A Village…
In Guatemala, the World of Good group spent time exploring communities where, like in so many other countries around the world, people’s well-being relies on whether or not their goods are bought at a fair market price.
One of the most powerful experiences he said was meeting a group of men in a village one night who had day jobs or went to school, but spent their weekends and evenings carving spoons out of waste wood—in order to raise money to help elderly people in the village who had no support. They didn’t have much disposable income themselves, but they helped one woman build a house and take care of other needs she had.
“These guys don’t have much to start with, but they’re still going out of their way to support the people who have even less,” Sanghvi said, which for him was a reminder: “All of us can do something.”
Building the Fair Trade Marketplace
Sanghvi’s advice for people interested in doing their shopping ethically is to become familiar with the various fair trade organizations and to learn the right questions to ask—and then ask them. He said if you see a product in a store, ask the owner about how it was sourced. “It keeps all of us honest,” he said. “Otherwise, it could be easy for non-fair trade products to slip in the system.”
The key is to demanding fair trade practices from other sectors, not just coffee, tea, and other commodities. “There’s no reason why it should be a niche segment,” he said. “There’s no reason why anybody should be working in sweatshops.”
This post was originally published by Treehugger.