Every purchase matters

Celebrate Fair Trade Month and improve an entire community’s daily life

Emy Wood

When you take a sip of coffee or pull on your favorite cotton shirt, thoughts of poverty and exploitation are not likely to cross your mind. But for farmers and producers in developing countries, it’s a harsh reality of the unfair international trade system.

This October, celebrate Fair Trade Month by raising awareness for the Fair Trade Movement, which promotes sustainability and helps producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions.

In international trade today, long distances, limited resources and too many middlemen stand between producers and consumers. This means farmers may get only pennies for your $3 latte.

The Fair Trade Movement’s market-based approach cuts out the middlemen and guarantees communities a minimum fair price for their work. By linking farmers directly with importers and establishing standard working conditions, fair trade makes it possible for farmers to earn a decent living wage. Instead of allowing producers to go into debt as they struggle to survive, this system creates sustainability and hard-earned dollars for every coffee bean.

The overall result? According to Fair Trade USA, “Direct, equitable trade enables farming and working families to eat better, keep their kids in school, improve health and housing and invest in the future.”

While best known for its hand in the coffee industry, fair trade has grown to encompass nearly 12,000 products in the U.S. such as tea, chocolate, body care items, toys and clothing.

“It’s like a farmer’s market gone global,” said Fair Trade USA founder Paul Rice in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “[Fair trade] is a way for you and I as conscious consumers to have a powerful impact on the lives of farmers and their families around the world.” The funds from these purchases support social, economic and environmental developmental projects designed to improve the quality of life for communities in more than 70 developing countries around the world.

“I wish it was more common,” said Ashton Lair, freshman international rescue and relief major. “Knowing how much talent some of these people have—they should get what they deserve.”

Where can fair trade be found in Lincoln? For coffees and teas, head across the street to The Mill or Cultiva on 727 S. 11th St.

Lincoln’s own fair trade specific store, Ten Thousand Villages on 140 N. Eighth St., offers home décor, toys, clothing and body care items handcrafted by more than 130 artisan groups in 38 countries. As a founder of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), Ten Thousand Villages makes their dedication to the movement clear: “We seek to establish long-term buying relationships in places where skilled artisans are under- or unemployed, and in which they lack other opportunities for income.”

“I didn’t know about fair trade until visiting Ten Thousand Villages,” said Lair. “Normally you see ‘Made in China,’ but I loved seeing the tags saying where everything was made—places you don’t hear a lot about, like Ecuador and Belize.”

Fair trade products can even be found at every Union student’s favorites: Wal-mart and Target. Not sure if your purchase is fair trade? Look for the little symbol.

“You and me and American consumers, we are the most powerful force for good today, and most of us don't even realize it,” said Rice. “Every purchase matters. Every purchase is an opportunity to change the world.”

As a college student, it can be easier to scrape together a few dollars for the cheap norm, but in the end, every effort made towards purchasing fair trade means better quality not only for you, but for many other lives.

4 Ways to celebrate Fair Trade Month:

  1. Buy fair trade items. Because fair trade is a market-based approach to fighting poverty, this means you have to participate (buy) for it to work.
  2. Ask for fair trade. Having trouble finding products where you shop? Ask!
  3. Become a fan of “Fair Trade Certified” on Facebook. This will help you stay up-to-date in the fair trade world with the latest news, giveaways, stories and information.
  4. Tell your friends. The best way to share fair trade news is tell your friends and give them insight on where to find the best prices and products.

Emy is a sophomore studying communication.