End of summer. Back to school. Big sale at the mall. Labor Day has come to mean something quite different from what it was originally intended. The holiday was created in the 1800s by a New York labor union as “a day off for the working man.” It became a federal holiday in 1894 and is regarded today as a day of rest. So as you prepare for your barbecues, trips to the beach, one last weekend fling before flinging yourself back into your studies, I’d like to suggest you take a moment to ponder the plight of the working men and women around the world.
As you know, thanks to a little thing called globalization, there are billions of people all over the globe working in sweatshop conditions and being paid barely enough to buy a bowl of rice so that we Americans can have every little thing our heart desires for the lowest possible price. The antidote to this is Fair Trade, which means just what it says: People being paid a fair price for goods provided.
These days you can get lots of Fair Trade goods. And while sometimes they’re hard to find, sometimes they are literally staring you in the face. A lot of stores are now offering Fair Trade chocolate, sugar, tea and coffee right alongside their counterparts. The bonus is that these things are also organic, because part of protecting workers means not forcing them to work with harmful pesticides. A lot of Fair Trade stuff is also recycled. I recently was at the bookstore in pursuit of a new journal (I know, writing on paper! How old-fashioned!) and decided to choose the one that was made of all recycled paper and produced sweatshop-free in Canada by EcoJot. Plus the designs are totally cute and it didn’t cost any more than the others.
Now I’d love to say I only buy things that are Fair Trade. Truth is, probably as much as 75 percent of the stuff I own is likely made in sweatshops by people being paid non-living wages. But when faced with a choice, and more and more lately it seems there is a choice, I make the right one. And if everyone did that, the demand for Fair Trade goods would rise and therefore so would the supply. (Is that the law of supply and demand? I might have fallen asleep that day in Economics.)
In any case, this Labor Day let’s raise a cup of Fair Trade coffee to the international workers and the people who fight for them and take some time to learn 12 Ways to Shop Fair Trade from Co-Op America. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Labor Day than to support retailers that are committed to fair wages and good working conditions.