In a world where problems seem to get increasingly more complicated every year, fair trade is refreshingly simple. A fair price is paid for a day’s work in a safe environment. Think about that. It shouldn’t be a label that needs to be applied to packaging. And it shouldn’t have to be given a day of its own every May to ensure that people take notice. It should just be how the world works.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. In our complex world, many fathers work long days and still can’t afford nutritious food for their families. While mothers who dream of providing each of their children with education can only choose one who will be lucky enough to attend school.
It’s a world where something as mundane as taking out the trash, brewing our morning coffee, or choosing what to wear can have a drastic impact on the lives of people near and far. We are a part of a global network with problems that can feel too big to solve. It’s overwhelming. And sometimes it seems easier to just not ask hard questions for fear of what the answers might be.
But without asking questions, change won’t come, and we think World Fair Trade Day is the perfect time to start.
Let’s begin with,
“Who makes what I buy?”
If you live in America, chances are your cabinets and closets are full of lovely things that were made or grown by people you’ve never met. This is one of the by-products of our global economy. We can live in a place with a limited growing season and have a bowl on our countertop filled with avocados, bananas, tomatoes, and oranges in the middle of January. We can have hangers holding dozens of dresses in our closet made in countries we may not even be able to find on a map.
But have you ever asked how they got there?
Who made them?
If they were made or sourced sustainably?
Were the makers getting paid a fair price?
Are their children hungry, are their medical needs being met, and is their community getting stronger through these transactions?
The answers to these questions may be complicated and overwhelming. But if we ask, tragedies like the Savar building disaster in Bangladesh could be avoided. In 2013, more than 1,100 people were killed after the garment factory in which they worked collapsed. Cracks had been found and the structure was deemed unsafe. But warnings were ignored by the owners while workers were ordered to return to their stations. As survivors were rescued and bodies were unearthed, clothing tags of many well-known retailers were found in the rubble, bringing to light the implications of consumer culture.
It was a tragedy that reminds us that we are all connected. And that just because we don’t know the people who make what we buy, doesn’t mean they aren’t affected by our purchase. The level of poverty is high in Bangladesh. Poverty often leads to desperation, and desperation leaves people vulnerable to exploitation. Those employees didn’t go to work that morning despite unsafe conditions and unfair pay because they enjoyed it; they went because they had to.
Fair trade matters…
…because nobody’s life and livelihood should be at risk for the sake of a $7 t-shirt. It matters because it is the simplest way we can start making a real difference. It’s often said that it’s the consumers who have all the power. That if we stop buying products made in an unethical way, companies will be forced to be more ethical in their production methods. But we are so much more than consumers. We are community. When we think, act, and shop like every decision we make affects everybody in our global community, significant change happens in our own lives and the lives of people all over the world. The complicated problems we all face together start to feel less overwhelming. It’s that simple. Little by little, we really can create change.
This World Fair Trade Day, we want to remind you of the power you hold when you choose to live life fair.
By making conscious choices to live more like we are a part of a community and less like we are consumers, we get to make a real impact on people, their families, and the environment. We get to play a role in changing an unjust system based on the exploitation of vulnerable people around the world. We can take part in making sustainable materials and practices more mainstream. We have the opportunity to let our purchases speak for us in defense of what is right and on behalf of those who may not otherwise have a voice.
But most of all, we get to work together to make a real difference in the life of a father who is struggling to feed his family, or a mother who dreams of educating her children. And it’s as easy as drinking fair trade coffee that comes from small, independently owned farms. Or choosing to use cloth napkins instead of paper towels to reduce daily household waste. Or building a wardrobe of ethically made clothes and accessories meant to last. And avoiding those shelves of new $7 t-shirts entirely.
Since our humble beginnings of selling fair trade products out of the trunk of a car, we’ve been making it our business to ask the hard questions. We want to know how our partners are doing and how their communities are affected by your purchases. We love sharing their stories of success with you. Because we know that we’ve all played a part in their journey.
At Ten Thousand Villages, we believe that change is possible by consciously choosing to use our purchases for good. It’s that simple, really. Let’s work together to make the world less complicated.