I would be hard pressed to end my talk about disposable coffee cups without spending a few minutes on fair trade certification. While fair trade is a relatively new idea (certification that is, not the concept of trading fairly … I hope) it is a concept that is gaining momentum and, I hope, will become a strong player in 21st century commerce.
As past pieces that I have written have pointed out, knowing the implications of your purchasing habits is extremely important and also, extremely tough to research completely. You may have thought nothing of drinking out of plastic water bottles before reading what I had learned, not because you were OK with the practices you were a part of, but because you didn’t know.
And the reason you didn’t know is not because you don’t care, but simply because you are busy with your job, walking the dog, making dinner, helping the kids with their homework, and trying to figure out why the sink in the bathroom won’t stop leaking even though you’ve fixed it six times (yes honey, I’ll get to it as soon as I am done typing).
Simply put, life is complicated and we all are trying to do the best we can within extremely full schedules. Thankfully, there are organizations like Trans Fair USA that do some of this work for us, and help us make smarter choices when we buy. Trans Fair USA is a non-profit entity and the only independent organization in the United States that certifies U.S. companies as selling Fair Trade Certified products.
Ok, I hear ya, you’re saying, “Sure Dave, that sounds swell and I’m really sure it was tough to copy that off their Web site, but why the heck should I care?”
Great question. Here’s what buying far trade products means to you and why you should care.
• The small farmers who are growing these products are assured a standard minimum price for their products which allows them to continue to support themselves and maintain their farms.
• Working conditions are strictly monitored meaning no one has been forced to work in sweatshop-like conditions to pick your product and children are not being used to harvest it. Fair wages to these workers are also guaranteed.
• Fair trade farmers work as a group and share revenue with their local communities helping to increase education, health, and the general well being of those that surround them. By buying fair trade you are not only supporting farmers, you are supporting societies.
• Harmful pesticides and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are strictly prohibited in fair trade farming so your purchase helps to make sure that the land stays cleaner, the product stays healthier, and communities are not subjected to the negative effects of chemical farming practices (polluted drinking water, depletion of growing fields, higher incidences of cancer and other diseases). While not all fair trade farming is organic, they must be proven to be sustainable and most are moving towards full organic.
So there’s the good side. Lots of great stuff that any Care2 Birkenstock-wearing reader can definitely see as being something they’d like to be a part of. So what’s the downside, you ask? Well, as in all things, I like to be honest and hit you with the pros and cons, so here goes. Fair trade can actually, in some, but not all cases, cost you more.
That’s right, I said it. I’m actually suggesting that you throw a little extra green out of your pocket in order to help people that you have never met, nor will ever meet, but who you are inextricably tied to. And here’s why.
Simply put, it’s because you are a good person. We all are at heart. None of use truly wants to be the bad guy, wants to be part of something that is actively hurting others. We want our coffee, and our bananas and our cocoa and our sugar and we want them cheap and we don’t want to have to think about it.
But the reality is, we have to think about it.
Now I know every coffee drinker reading this doesn’t want to stop drinking coffee (I’m sweating just thinking about it), but do you want to have to think about that 8-year-old who picked the beans you just ground up? Do you want to have to think about the pesticides that the ACME coffee company is spraying its fields with, year after year, that is poisoning the ground water that that kid drinks from when she goes home at night? And as you sit in your breakfast nook, sipping away from a nice steaming cup of java, do you want to have to picture the house with no lights that little girl has to sit in every night, where even if she had a school book she wouldn’t have the light to read it by?
I know I don’t. So for me the choice is simple. I’d much rather pay a dollar more for my coffee (or drink a little less at the times when I’m strapped), knowing that the farmer is getting a fair price. I’m happy to help him maintain a sustainable farm that supports his family, his community, and his environment. And most importantly, I’m glad to be a part of a chain that will help his daughter get an education so that she can work towards a brighter tomorrow for her and her family and eventually help me by making her little corner of the world a bit better.
So there you have it, fair trade in a nutshell. There are more than a few Fair Trade certified products out there and the list is growing all the time. Look for the Fair Trade Certified label and have your money do some good. While I’m not going to kid you and imply that the world is going to change by your purchases alone, consider this. By stepping out of the problem, you can stand tall and say that you are part of the solution. And in doing so, you can affect others. Remember, every avalanche starts with one snowflake.
One final note and then I’m off. When you are checking out your groceries and bemoaning the extra bills you may be shelling out for fair trade, ask yourself this: Am I paying too much for this, or in the past, have I not been paying enough?
To learn more about fair trade, check out the Make Trade Fair campaign and get involved.
Dave Chameides is an environmental educator and freelance filmmaker. Head over to his Web site 365 Days of Trash now, sign up for the newsletter, and you’ll get a chance to win his bag! While he is presently saving all of his trash for a year to better understand his environmental impact, his main focus is sustainability through education and he believes that with knowledge all things are possible