Saturday, March 08, 2008

Fair Trade: Why it Matters to You

A few weeks back I experienced the "Utah Way" of Fair Trade and my colleagues at Catholic Relief Services helped get the event some media attention (thanks!). This article from the Intermountain Catholic News Service pretty much gives the text of the public talk entitled "Fair Trade: Why it Matters to You." Read on and thanks again to all in Salt Lake City that helped me promote Fair Trade!

Fair trade confronts poverty, empowers people

by Christine Young
Intermountain Catholic

SALT LAKE CITY — “Fair trade is a way to confront poverty and a way to help empower people – both producers and consumers,” said Jacqueline DeCarlo of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) at Westminster College Feb. 12.

DeCarlo was invited to Salt Lake City by Scott Lowe, executive director of Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade, non-profit store in Salt Lake City. Her talk was also sponsored by the Utah Chapter of Net Impact and Westminster College of Business.

“We have a lot of different important segments of the community here tonight,” said DeCarlo. “We have students and faculty from different colleges (Brigham Young University and the University of Utah), which is important in social movement. We have business people concerned with social responsibility, and all of us are consumers. As consumers, we make decisions every day about how we spend our money. Some of you are already committed to fair trade, others of you are curious. I will talk about what fair trade is so you can understand why it matters.”

DeCarlo has worked with CRS for two years helping U.S. Catholics act in solidarity overseas through fair trade purchases. DeCarlo began her work with developing countries while working for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. In 2001, she became the director of the Fair Trade Resource Network and is currently a CRS fair trade program advisor. She independently wrote the book, “Fair Trade: A Beginners Guide.”

“Fair trade is a trading partnership based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade,” said DeCarlo. “This definition means consumers and producers are equal. If they are not equal, efforts need to be made to restore that equity through practices that promote dialogue through communication revealing what each parties interests are, and how there can be a win-win situation. There must be respect for what the needs, desires, and goals are of all those involved in the partnership.”

Jacqueline DeCarlo from Catholic Relief Services explains Fair Trade and why it matters to a diverse audience.
Jacqueline DeCarlo from Catholic Relief Services explains Fair Trade and why it matters to a diverse audience. DeCarlo said when we consider consciously how we spend money, we give closer attention the people and the communities behind the products and the value behind our decisions. 
IC photo by Christine Young

DeCarlo said we live in an economy that creates haves and have-nots. That can be seen when we compare our standard of living in the United States to any number of countries, particularly Africa where many people still struggle with malnutrition and hunger.

“Literally billions of people on our planet survive on less than $2 a day to eat, to have water, which is usually not clean, and have sanitation,” said DeCarlo. “Fair trade is an approach to right those kinds of wrongs in the world community through the marketplace. The buying and selling of goods is a pretty basic notion. We all need to trade in goods. None of us is self-sufficient. So if we are going to trade, how should we do it?

“In my book, I talk about Enda Ruth Byler, who came up with partnership in 1946,” said DeCarlo. “Byler was a church volunteer in Pennsylvania, who traveled with her husband, J.N., to Puerto Rico. They were on a mission trip, and were introduced to women in a sewing class. These women were impoverished and were learning sewing to improve their skills to sell their handiwork and earn a living. Their desire for change inspired Byler to find a way to transfer their talent into income. These women did not have any outlets to sell their products. Byler began selling their products to women in sewing clubs in Pennsylvania. Byler also helped Palestinian refugees in Jordan.

Byler donated $500 and became known as the “Needlework Lady,” who sold products out of the trunk of her car. That led to her selling products out of a gift shop in her home. That project became Ten Thousand Villages and that kind of model is in 160 communities in Canada and the United States. It is proof fair trade can work. Now Ten Thousand Villages achieves $20 million in sales every year. Each of those sales translates into living wages and safe and healthy working living conditions for the artisans in dozens of countries overseas.

“CRS has fair trade coffee, a chocolate project, and crafts projects,” said DeCarlo. “We use those as ways to get Catholics involved in the fair trade movement.

“Fair trade can be a socially responsible business practice,” said DeCarlo. “Fair trade has to be profitable, but it also considers people and the planet. Fair trade principles include paying a fair wage, offering employees opportunities for advancement, providing equal employment opportunities for all people, particularly the most disadvantaged, engaging in environmentally sustainable practices, being open to public accountability, building long-term trade relationships, providing healthy and safe working conditions within the local context, and providing financial and technical assistance to producers whenever possible.

“The priority of fair traders is not only to be in profitable partnerships with people, but to use businesses to improve the conditions of the disadvantaged and marginalized people, and get them in long-term partnerships,” said DeCarlo. “These groups are often the targets of commercial exploitation. We are not there yet, but that is why events like this are important to explain fair trade.

“Why would corporations shift to comply with fair trade principles?” asked DeCarlo. “One motivation is they want loyalty from their consumers. Consumers are more likely to buy from companies that manufacture energy-efficient products, promote health and safety, support fair labor and trade, and commit to environmentally friendly practices if the products are of equal quality and price.

“Once a consumer is aware of fair trade policies, they are more likely to make fair trade purchases. Companies, socially responsible or otherwise, listen to those kinds of values because those values translate into purchases,” said DeCarlo. “People are paying a lot of attention to the value of their dollar.”

DeCarlo said students are extremely important to fair trade because they have been successful in getting companies to pay attention to fair trade policies. Activism of students making the case for fair trade products and policies to fellow students, faculty, and administrators has resulted in fair trade coffee being offered in dining halls, restaurants, bookstores, and food courts, which are now also offering fair trade chocolate and bananas.

“Fair trade also offers producers empowerment,” said DeCarlo. “In recent years, thanks in part to gender equity, 36 percent of all coffee producers are women. They are able to become leaders in the cooperative structures and can take management positions. In less than 10 years, $94 million of extra income has been created for farmers as a result of fair trade coffee, tea, cocoa, and fresh fruit in the United States. Fair traders are not only paying living wages, they are also developing long-term relationships through the democratic structures such as farmer cooperatives. Women, in particular can learn skills, gain responsibility, and can earn either primary or supplemental income in cultures where women are still considered second-class citizens. This holds true for other ethnic and marginalized groups.”

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