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.

 

Loss and Restitution

White demonstrator at a Canton, Ohio Black Lives Matter Protest

White demonstrator at a Canton, Ohio Black Lives Matter Protest

As this new wave of violence sweeps across our nation, I find myself caught somewhere between anger, grief and disbelief. Nearly every day another shooting incident becomes news headlines and I think, “Oh my God, the world has gone mad!”

Walking along the park trail this morning, taking in the lush green of summer and the gentle rippling of the stream, while the smell of a dead animal hung heavy in the air, I thought to myself, “this is life.” Good, bad, beautiful, ugly. Life and death dancing in circles around us, each calling out to us to join in their dance.

I don’t know about you, but I have had enough of this violence and death. I am unashamedly a pacifist because I choose to literally follow Jesus’ words to love our enemies and that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. I struggle to find one incident in either current day events or history, where violence has truly solved anything. I beg you to show me because I’m not seeing it.

My son tells me that World War II began as a result of the shame the Germans endured during World War I. More than 50 million lives were lost that second time around.

Consider the Civil War in our own country. Yes, it ended slavery in our nation . . . sort of . . . yet it did little to change hearts. Today the descendants of slaves still struggle to thrive in a world where they don’t feel wanted or equal. Those who ruled them still exercise their white privilege yet wash their hands of the current mess we are in.

Dignity was stolen from an entire color of people. When I study the words of God, I find that when something is stolen, to make restitution, we are to repay two to seven times the amount that was stolen. After the war, instead of being given equal dignity, blacks still had to ride in the back of the bus, drink from separate fountains, eat in different restaurants, and pretty much live as second-class citizens with limited opportunities. All this, in a land where we claim that all are created equal.

While outwardly those specific circumstances have changed, the dignity of equality still remains a missing ingredient.

In his letter to the next president, Marc H. Morial the CEO of the National Urban League aptly points out that: “Since 2006, the United States has spent nearly $50 billion rebuilding Afghanistan through the Afghanistan Infrastructure Rehabilitation Program. The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008, infused the nation’s faltering financial institutions with investments of more than $400 billion. Whether we call it “recovery,” “rehabilitation” or “relief,” it is time for America to demonstrate that very same commitment to our own struggling urban families and communities. The necessity is as powerful and compelling as it was for Europe, Afghanistan or Wall Street.” I wholeheartedly agree with Morial that it is a bit duplicitous of us not to right the wrongs at home before we start “saving” the rest of the world.

About a year ago, I read the book River Rising by Athol Dickson. It drew gut-wrenching sobs out of me as my heart began to really see what had been lost, and is still being lost today.

How can we begin to pay back that minimum of double what was stolen? Can we have the decency to stop being offended when our black brothers and sisters demonstrate to us that there is still a problem?

Paying back double is the least that we as a nation could do, but first we have to acknowledge the depth and breadth of their loss.

 

Disposable People

IMG_1743
He was just a stump of a person. Swept along by a surging wave of people, I nearly stepped on him as I descended an overhead foot bridge at one of the busiest hubs in the city of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He had no arms or legs to propel himself to safety. Left alone, lying under the merciless sun with only a begging bowl. Alone, in a city of more than 10 million, with no one beside him to give him a drink of water or relief from the sun. I wish I could say that I did something heroic that day, something that would have altered the course of his life for the better, but I kept walking, pulled by the throng around me, my stomach churning from the sight. It’s been years ago, but I’ve not been able to forget him. The lines of his face are but a vague memory, but the clarity of his dented aluminum begging bowl still haunts me. It screams at me, informing me that there is someone in his life, someone watching from the shadows, listening for the plink of coins dropping into the bowl; someone who would pick him up at the end of the day, empty the begging bowl of its takas. Hopefully this same person would feed him and give him some rest before dropping him off again in the light of another cruel sub-tropical sun. A person who is content to use the unbearable suffering of another soul to fill his own pockets.

They say that slavery ended with the Civil War. They couldn’t be more wrong. Today more that 30 million people are held in slavery, in one form or another. 30 million disposable people. That is more than all the slaves trafficked during the years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Human Trafficking is second only to drug dealing, and is tied with arms dealing as the second largest criminal industry in the world, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, netting a profit of over 32 billion dollars every year. Nearly everything we own and love is tainted by this industry. From the cotton in our clothes to the sweat shops they are sewn in. From  diamond mines to florist shops. From cocoa plantations to sugar refineries. From covert transactions of forced prostitution to blatant pornography. Even components of the electronics that seem to define us in the 21st century, that mark our “progress” as humans, are tainted by the industry.

President Barack Obama said it well,

It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name — modern slavery.

The CNN Freedom Project defines it like this:

Slavery occurs when one person completely controls another person, using violence or the threat of violence, to maintain that control, exploits them economically and they cannot walk away.

It reminds me of the garment workers killed in the recent collapse of the factory in Bangladesh. Though they sensed danger that morning, they could not walk away. Financially they had no other options. Twenty two cents an hour does not let you save up, should you need to take a day off if your building is condemned.

While the scale of modern day slavery is staggering, I firmly believe that each of us has a voice and an important role bringing an end to slavery. If the world has modern day slaves, it requires modern day heroes. In the coming pages of this blog, I want to introduce you to some of those slaves and some of those heroes, but for today, I want to challenge you to make one change. One change that will impact one of those 30 million people. One change matters. You could decide to find ethically sourced sugar or coffee. You could buy a fair trade product. You could write a letter to Hershey’s. You could search for agencies in your area working against trafficking – because human trafficking is not limited to other countries, it’s right here among us. If you need more inspiration, you could watch movies like Human Trafficking, WaterSlumdog Millionaire, or The Dark Side of Chocolate. Do a search and find countless sites working tirelessly to stem the tide. Take a survey to discover how some of how unwittingly you may benefit from slavery. Pick some spring flowers and put them on your windowsill as a reminder of those who lost their lives in the industry. Say a prayer for those still trapped. The options are endless. There are at least 30 people enslaved. Pick one thing. A place to start. A place where you dig your feet in and tell the world that there are no more disposable people.