Sunday, February 15, 2009

Chapter 7 Update: Ordinary People Making Fair Trade Extraordinary

Last week I was interviewed for a documentary about ethical consumption. I am having a little post-production anxiety around how I came off: did I oversimplify complex issues? Was I sanctimonious? Did I tell enough stories of the real impact Fair Trade makes?

Luckily this blog gives me a chance for "do over" on some questions. For instance, I was asked why I sincerely believe in Fair Trade, and the answer is the individuals and institutions that are part of the movement inspire my trust, inform my understanding of the marketplace, and excite my passions. In chapter seven of my book I focus on notable Fair Traders, and I'd like now to share a couple more.

This time last year I got a chance to meet two women who each in her own way is taking the concept of Fair Trade and integrating it into her life. I met Marianne H. McLean, of Beans for Better Life, at a conference that CRS Fair Trade was a part of in Indianapolis. Marianne's company is based in Indiana and so I got to spend a little time with her and team-mate, Joan Eicher. Like so many Fair Traders, Marianne had a unique but compelling story about why her coffee company is fully-committed to Fair Trade, even though at the time we met she had never been to a coffee farm. It turns out that Beans for Better Life is an effort of social entrepreneurship for Marianne and her husband. When they heard, while chatting with a fellow passenger on an airplane, about the plight of coffee farmers, they knew they had to take action. Motivated by their faith and grateful for the financial success they had, the couple decided to "give back" by starting a family business that is fully committed Fair Trade. As a mom, Marianne also decided she wanted to use the business to create ethical fundraising opportunities for schools and other community groups. Beans for Better Life has a program that provides special pricing for fundraising and donates 10% of profits back to farmer cooperatives. She's clearly setting a good example for her family and her community.

The community of San Diego has a great role model in the person of Carolyn Lief, who I met last year at a World Fair Trade Day celebration in that beautiful city. During the festivities--orchestrated by a fun and vibrant committee of volunteers and businesses--I learned that Carolyn had traveled to a Nicaraguan coffee community with a delegation from St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral. Meeting a coffee farmer named Fatima helped Carolyn understand the impact of her household purchasing back at home. Reflecting on the lure of discount shopping, Carolyn said, "We get the best bargains at someone else's expense. I don't want to be acting at someone else's expense any more....bit by bit I am trying to buy Fair Trade." She's also trying to organize businesses, faith groups, and students in the San Diego region around key events such as last year's World Fair Trade Day,which I was honored to be a part of (see photo above; Carolyn is third from the right), and the annual Fair Trade month in October.

Small businesses like Marianne's and community groups such as Carolyn's are what make me believe in Fair Trade. The principles and practices of Fair Trade are the framework around which ordinary people work to create extraordinary efforts at restoring fairness in trade.

No comments:

Post a Comment