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Why Fair Trade?

by Lynn

ABC News photo

October is Fair Trade Month and that got me thinking about why it’s important to me personally to choose Fair Trade products when I can.

It was a shock to read several years ago, about how children are forced into slavery (often sold by impoverished families), to pick cocoa in Cote d’Ivoire that ends up in chocolate bars here in the U.S.

Since I saw this, many chocolate companies have taken steps to ensure child slaves are not a source of their cocoa. The glaring exception is Hershey’s, America’s largest chocolate candy producer with 42% of the market.  (Help put pressure on Hershey’s by joining the Raise the Bar Campaign.)

Then earlier this year, I watched a documentary about children who pick blueberries in Michigan. Five-year-olds should not spend their childhood in hard labor.

This is one more reason I want to buy local, especially when I can visit the farm or places where products I buy and consume come from.

But it also is a reason to buy Fair Trade products when local isn’t available.

While there is no one universally accepted definition for Fair Trade, the most commonly accepted is from FINE, an informal network of four Fair Trade labeling organizations:

Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers. Fair Trade organisations (backed by consumers) are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising, and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.

Labeling agencies are charged with doing the work individual consumers cannot by checking to ensure producers are adhering to the guidelines above before attaching the Fair Trade label to goods.

(Note: Currently there’s a bit of a shake up going on as Fair Trade USA, the major American labeler is leaving Fair Trade International due to a disagreement over FTUSA’s strategy to expand certification for hired labor in coffee and other product areas in Latin America. Read more about this situation here.)

The Fair Trade label may be attached to products including handicrafts, coffee and cocoa, shea butter, quinoa, cotton, bananas, tea, honey, wine and gold.

As consumers, choosing Fair Trade helps us know (but never guarantees), that people who produce the products we buy are not children, paid a fair wage, are not knowingly exposed to toxic chemicals and in general are treated the way we would wish everyone to be.

To learn more about Fair Trade, check out these resources:

Tomorrow I’ll share some of our favorite Fair Trade edibles and later this week, wonderful handicrafts.

Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and authors of  Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, and founders of Green Halloween®.

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