Saturday, August 31, 2013

Buy this Book for Beginners Plus

Sometimes I'm asked if I am going to write a third edition* of Fair Trade: A Beginner's Guide.  Certainly some of the data, originally researched in 2005 and 2006, could use updating.  Definitely some of the actors in the movement have changed, both additions and deletions. New issues have come to the forefront, as have the voices of producer and consumers.  Part of me felt that I needed to find the time and space to write an update to do the movement justice.

With the recent release of Dr. Keith R. Brown's Buying Into Fair Trade: Culture, Morality, and Consumption, I now feel guilt free.  Our books are distinctly different in that Keith (transparency alert: a friendly colleague) is a trained sociologist who bases his book on ethnographic research.  But if you want a comprehensive primer about how fair trade came to be, why it is important, and what are its strengths and weaknesses--plus an analysis of consumer behavior--this book is for you. 

Don't get me wrong.  I feel like my book still makes a contribution, and ideally the two would be a great pair.  But if you have to choose one, buy Keith's book for fresh perspectives and academic insights into the movement and the marketplace.

The timing is right for me personally, as I leave my professional role in the fair trade movement to address hunger issues domestically as Executive Director of Manna Food Center.  I won't have access to the best information and analysis in the movement so consider following Fair Trade Chronicles for insights and stories. 

Thanks for all of you who have purchased the 8,000 or so copies of my book.  Better yet, to those of you who passed them on or ordered copies for the local library.  I'll always be a fair trader at heart, and it is a deep satisfaction to know I have had a small role to play in making trade fairer for those producers who struggle to build community and use their skills and talents to create the products that fill my daily life.

* Fair Trade and How It Works is a second, hard cover edition that features a few minor revisions made in 2010.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A further take on "Your Money or Your Life" available

When I first encountered fair trade in 1999, I was probably primed to the notion of valuing work and talent in ways that matched investment of time and energy by the influence of the book "Your Money or Your Life" by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin.   I studied it in the context of my Quaker community and the voluntary simplicity movement. 

Last year I was proud to be a supporter of a film by Katie Teague that was following in the tradition of those movements.  "Money & Life" is an inspirational essay-style documentary that that asks a provocative question: can we see the economic crisis not as a disaster, but as a tremendous opportunity? This film connects the dots on our current economic pains and offers a new story of money based on an emerging paradigm of planetary well-being that understands all of life as profoundly interconnected.

Find out how you can stream the documentary, host a viewing party, or buy your own copy.  True confessions: I haven't watched my copy yet, but plan to beat the heat sometime soon and enjoy a matinee.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

More on Fair, or maybe just Fast, Fashion

As a follow up to my posting about the Fair Trade USA certification pilot for clothing, a couple folks reached me off-line or via Linked In to suggest resources.  If you want to dig deeper into ethical fashion issues, you might want to listen to the NPR series, "The Fast World of Fast Fashion."  If academia is more your style, check out the one-minute MBA segment, "The Business of Fast Fashion."

The premise of this blog, in a way, is that we need to be informed consumers and then take action according to our values.  The analysts of BBMG conduct study after study advancing the notion that when we shop our values we shape market trends. That's an encouraging sign, but take note that progress is slower than we think and the stakes are high for factory workers.  A recent article in Salon details the work of labor activists, and the importance of individual shopping choices, but concludes "Sweatshops still make your clothes." 

Thursday, February 07, 2013

SNAP the silence on domestic hunger

This week I participated with other residents of Montgomery County, MD in an effort to SNAP the silence on hunger in our community.  The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) supports our neighbors whose wages are too low to lift them out of poverty, helping them to put food on the table. Formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, this Federal program allows individuals that to purchase food to eat, or to buy seeds and plants which produce food for the household. By taking the SNAP the silence challenge and living on a food budget of $5 a day (the actual average adult food stamp allotment is $4.25) participants are experiencing life on public nutrition assistance, a reality for about 65,000 people in our county.  I am saddened and shamed by that statistic but impressed by community leaders like Councilwoman Valerie Ervin who are building awareness of the need for social safety nets like SNAP.  As it turns out I don't seem to have what it takes to be among the working poor.  .

I expected the toughest part of this challenge to be incorporating my commitment to fair and sustainable trade into the mix.  Last weekend, for example, I tried to purchase free range chicken from a local farmer to add to a stew for dinner this week.  The base for the stew was a fair trade bean mix, costing about $1.90 a serving BEFORE the meat protein.  The chicken locally sourced and humanely raised chicken would cost me $8.99 a pound.  Factory produced poultry available at a supermarket cost $2.99 a pound.  I had to choose the cheaper chicken, although I'd rather support a local farmer, eat chickens that were raised in a setting that doesn't dangerously pollute the environment.  But if I were a SNAP recipient I wouldn't have the luxury of those choices. 

As it turns out what was most difficult was the lifestyle choices I didn't even think about before this week--the cost of my occasional snack and treats, and the ultimate luxury of cheating on this challenge.  Building in the cost of a dessert for dinner really through my budget off.  What was worse, is that I had absolutely no flexibility for snacks at work or even fast food when I was running late for dinner.   Doesn't sound like a struggle,  perhaps, to have to put aside the occasional granola bar or bowl of Ben & Jerry's.  But going without those things made me realize how easy my daily life is.

Working out my budget took a lot of time, shopping for bargains was also a strain. I started this week feeling a bit under stress. To top it off, not having any casual snacks or treats throughout the day made the slight hunger I was experiencing even more irritating. When it turned out I had to travel for a family obligation, I gave up the possibility of eating on $5.00 in an airport. That turned out to be my breaking point. 

Individuals living on SNAP, of course, can't opt out.  They can't use a debit card to sneak a pretzel at a food court.  They can't rationalize a family difficulty as a reason exceed a budget.  I started this week dismayed by hunger in my community because I believe hunger in the United States should be impossible given our resources and our ingenuity.  I end the week with a different kind of sadness and a measure of shame.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Clothing and Certification

For the past several years, through my day job, I have been involved in a complicated, and sometimes contentious, process to try and set standards for certifying fair trade clothing.  The group of businesses, nongovernmental organizations, and advocates that committed to an experimental pilot has released our report. 
Key findings include:
  • Workers in certified factories earned 15 percent above local minimum wage on average, and up to double the minimum wage in one facility.
  • Distribution of the Fair Trade premium resulted in tangible change in the local community (e.g. building a school in war-torn Liberia, and distributing cash bonuses equivalent to one week’s pay).
  • Impact (as measured by Fair Trade premiums) tripled each year of the program, due to availability of certified products through national channels like REI and
  • There is no one-size-fits-all approach to worker representation in cut-and-sew factories, and worker training is needed to ensure that all employees understand their rights, including the right to freedom of association as required by Fair Trade standards. 
The report includes a range of recommendations, including creation of two distinct certifications, with corresponding labels for Fair Trade Certified Cotton and Fair Trade Certified Sewing. The goal of this is to increase impact for subsistence cotton farmers AND factory workers, and communicate clearly to consumers. Second, they also identified the need for a more inclusive and flexible approach to the certification of artisan-made apparel and textiles. These and all other recommendations made by the MSG will be adopted in the Fair Trade apparel program moving forward.  

As part of the apparel pilot, a group of us traveled to India in 2011.  Here my colleagues Damani Patridge & Julia Wilbur meet with a family that is a part of the fair trade organization, Marketplace India in Mumbai.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Follow Fair Trade Chronicles through Mexico & Central America

Art and information at the site of the Acteal massacre in Chiapas, Mexico
I encountered fair trade while traveling through Latin America more than a dozen years ago.   Two colleagues, Chris Treter of Higher Grounds, and Matt Early of Just Coffee, happen to be retracing some of the steps I took in an effort to talk with farmers about the ethos and impact of fair trade. The endeavor is called Fair Trade Chronicles generating multi-media insights into the life of farming communities.

I have been thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to reminisce and to reflect on current realities fair traders face. Although the trip itself ends January 14, 2013 you can retroactively follow their postings and video as you await the documentary that will be produced, Connected by Coffee, as a result of the trip.