Fair Trade on a Shoestring – 10 Tips For Your Tool Box

Tool Set

Let’s be honest here for a second. A lot of people want to support Fair Trade but struggle because of the higher price tags. Trust me, we know! For more than twenty years now, we have been either students, volunteers or bootstrapping entrepreneurs. If there is a crowd that shouldn’t be able to afford Fair Trade, we’re definitely a part of it. That being said, I want to tell that crowd, “You can’t afford NOT to buy Fair Trade.” There are more slaves today than there were during the entire period of the transatlantic slave trade. This is not okay with me.

Most slavery today happens because, simply put, people are poor. This is not just living-below-the-poverty-line-poor, but a poverty so desperate that some choose to become bonded laborers with little hope of ever gaining their freedom. Others send their child to work on a plantation where the child’s freedom is taken away and he or she ends up working without pay. Some migrate to another city or country in promise of a job that turns out to be a hell on earth that they can’t escape. MBA Central has an eye-opening article with statistics and info-graphics that unpack slavery in our times. You can see it here.

When we buy Fair Trade products, we are ensuring that fair wages are paid and that working conditions are safe. Families are kept together. Entire communities grow and flourish. Human trafficking and slavery are prevented. That’s something I am willing to make a sacrifice for. Here are some tips to get you started.

  1. Be Aware – Be willing to research the source of the products you buy. Visualize the conditions of the workers who made the items as you consume them.
  2. Consume Less – When a friend told me he no longer bought chocolate because of the slavery issues, I was shocked. That was the first I  knew about modern day slavery. We couldn’t afford Fair Trade Chocolate at the time, so we began eating much less chocolate and, when we did, we were aware of the hands that produced it.
  3. Be content with what you have. One of the reasons slaves are “needed” today is because we consume so much. Middlemen utilize slaves so that the cost of the products we “need” or feel we deserve is affordable to us. An awareness of where products come from can lead to contentment with what I have vs. the knowledge that I may be contributing to the world’s current slavery crisis.
  4. Shop second-hand – By the time a product reaches a thrift store, the resale no longer supports a large manufacturing company with unethical principles. It also is much more affordable to you. Don’t go crazy though, and over-consume just because it is “cheap”.
  5. Start with one thing and make it your thing. Buy it only when you know it has been ethically sourced. Research it. There are many options you could choose from to start with. These include cocoa, coffee, sugar, rice, rubber, mica (the glittery stuff in makeup), cotton and garments, shoes, gold, diamonds, tobacco, bricks, coal, electronic devices, palm oil, sea food, cut flowers. The list is endless and can seem overwhelming, but start with one.
  6. Buy local – I was horrified to learn that a significant amount of the sugar in the US market is processed in slave-like conditions in the Dominican Republic. In 2014, more than 100 tons of sugar from the DR was imported into the US. As a family we had already cut back on sugar consumption for health reasons but I wanted to do more. Fair Trade Sugar is still not something that fits in our budget, so I was thrilled to find a local source of sugar, Pioneer Sugar. Cut flowers are another industry where child labor is often an issue. Pick up a fresh bouquet at your local farmer’s market instead.
  7. Buy in bulk Equal Exchange offers coffee and cocoa in 5lb. bags and is more inexpensive than buying in small packs. Chocolate chips and chocolate bars can be bought by the case and split with a friend. One of our favorite coffee roasters, Hemisphere also sells ethically sourced coffee in in 5lb bags. They roast it right before shipping and I couldn’t be happier with the results!
  8. Shop Around for your favorite Fair Trade brands and ask to be put on their mailing list. I am emailed frequent coupons from Ten Thousand Villages. Other companies email me about sales they are having.
  9. Look for ethically sourced products – There are many great brands out there that are not Fair Trade Certified but still pay their workers fair wages. The key is to do your homework.
  10. Make a wish list and let your friends and family know about it. Not only does this help to avoid receiving junk that you will pass on to a resale shop in a few months, it gives you a chance to tell your family and friends about modern day slavery. You just may get the coolest birthday gift ever, enhancing not only your life, but changing the life of an artisan on the other side of the world. The chain reaction is real and inspiring!

To Be or Not To Be (Color Blind)

Black and White Ballerina Dolls by Pebble

I used to imagine that I was color blind. Not literally, of course. I know a few people who are color blind and it is difficult for me to imagine seeing the world in only a handful of colors. I’m speaking figuratively of the idea that I could or should be “color blind” to racial differences. I thought this was a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, racial color blindness is meant to be a good thing but the more I thought about it, the more derogatory the term sounded to me. Rather than sharing my thoughts on the matter, I decided to listen to some of my black friends, to see how it felt for them when a white person says that they are color blind.

Here is what I heard from them.

“It feels dismissive. You’re blind to my color.”

“Doesn’t make sense – how can you say you don’t see something that is so much a part of who I am. Are you ashamed of my color?”

“Being blind means you don’t SEE me”

“It would be like being gender-blind. I don’t see gender. I treat everyone the same.To some people they would be just fine with that BUT the majority of people would say NO, see ME as a woman. See my unique beauty and strength. See how different I am from men but yet how I can do just as many things and succeed because I am a woman.

“A world devoid of color is what color? White. I am not white, and I am. My color is not invisible.”

It’s like saying ‘I see you, just not that part of you, you know that part that makes us different, that makes me uncomfortable maybe?'”

“White people talk about THEIR color all the time and obsess over it. Who’s pale, whole tan, how long they have to lay out to get darker. Who can’t lay out because they’re just getting red…and yet somehow can tell me, they’re colorblind”.

While we mean to say we don’t judge people based on their skin color, what they hear is that they don’t exist. That we are ashamed of them. That we are afraid of their color. That they are invisible.

When I look at the breadth of color in the world around me, I can’t help but believe that we are meant to notice color and take it in with every breath. Color is not meant to be ignored.

As one of my friends eloquently said, “May we be color-brave, not color-blind”.

Brave enough to see color and not judge.

Brave enough to celebrate differences and not label people.

Brave enough to say, “I see you and you matter to me.”

* For a scholarly discussion on the pros and cons of “color blindness” as it relates to race check out this article in the Atlantic.