Saturday, July 14, 2007

Fair Trade-In?

If I have any claim at all to being hip, it is that I drive a scooter around Washington, DC. I don't look a thing like Audrey Hepburn in Italy, but I do fancy myself somewhat sporty. I first hit the streets with my scooter in 2002, so I also think this makes me a trend setter. Unfortunately a bit of bad luck meant that I needed to do a trade-in this weekend.

Now, my idea for commerce is that as much as possible I try to practice Fair Trade principles in all my affairs. It may be easier and easier to get a Fair Trade banana, but most products are NOT within the Fair Trade system. That doesn't mean, however, that I can't try to infuse conventional trade with the principles and practices of the Fair Trade movement. When I decided that I needed a new Yahama Vino, I made my shopping decision based on the notion of "long term partnerships. This means I went to my trusted salesperson, Anthony, at Coleman Power Sports.

To borrow from the official Fair Trade definition, the notion of "fair trade" is based on dialogue, transparency and respect. Last time I needed a Scooter, Anthony was very friendly and informative, he didn't try to cheat me, and I could tell from his demeanor and conversation style that he was the kind of person that I wouldn't mind getting stuck in an elevator with. I also wanted to go back to the same store where I bought my first scooter because I knew they had good customer service. Although some of the numbers on the bill of sale were a little surprising ($151 for an administrative fee?) they could all be backed up with a rationale. That kind of transparency, like the good service, deserves reciprocal customer loyalty, and Anthony deserves another commission.

Now, of course, I'm not really sure if the price I paid for my scooter was "fair" in the sense that I am pretty clueless about vehicle supply chains, most notably how Yamaha treats its workers. But everybody at Coleman--from the mechanics, to the finance folks, to Anthony--is friendly, attentive, and they seem to genuinely like their jobs. I can only hope the same for the technicans on the assembly line.

I believe in Fair Trade not only because it helps farmers and artisans struggling out of poverty, but because it also provides an easy to apply, socially responsible framework for making economic choices. Each and every day we transfer value from our pocketbooks to individuals and companies to meet our needs and wants. I wasn't too happy about having to prematurely trade-in my scooter (but I was the one who didn't lock it--which led to its getting stolen/trashed etc) but I am happy to give Anthony, Coleman, and Yamaha my business.

If you are in Washington DC , look out for me on my silver Vino. I'm the one with the Oxfam sticker on my helmet that says "Make Trade Fair."

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