Thursday, October 15, 2009

What Makes a Business Fair Trade?

When I was a student at Agnes Scott College back in the mid 80s, our liberal arts institution for women was mentioned in Playboy as a place with “babes,” or potential swimsuit models, or some such objectionable comment. Many on campus were concerned that our great school and its students were being sullied. But an English professor at the time stated that she thought bad publicity was better than no publicity at all. I embrace that viewpoint especially in these times of information overload.

So when Time magazine used the start of Fair Trade month here in the US to assert that Fair Trade Certified coffee prices are often, to reference my colleague Jonathan Rosenthal, more accurately described as “somewhat less unfair” prices, I was glad for the attention. And when the New York Times Sunday paper sneered at ethical consumption as a superficial half-measure, I sighed but thought, “Thanks for the plug.”

On this Blog Action Day--and everyday--I am glad when Fair Trade gets in the spotlight, especially for the purposes of debate and discussion. I learned in college that critical thinking is a good thing. That challenges based in fact and articulated in compelling way can lead to excellence in theory and practice. We in the Fair Trade movement shouldn’t lament “bad” press; we should step up and join the dialogue.

Personally, I’ve also discovered through the years that my learning style is such that I analyze and synthesize best when given a case study or “real-life” situation. Kind of like word problems we all pondered over in elementary school. Along those lines, I thought I would offer up a scenario and see if others think my analysis is correct, and why. Now, I realize on Blog Action Day, I am supposed to be writing and musing and debating on climate change. This may seem like a stretch, but one of the current challenges in Fair Trade is whether or not we are a “green” movement given, for example, that we a) encourage a certain type of consumption, and b) promote trade across many miles. Which brings us to my question: What Makes a Business Fair Trade? Or for that matter Green? This week I got pulled into such a debate, while standing at a booth at the Green Festival before my Fair Trade White House presentation. Here is the situation I offer for pondering:

My friend Rochel is a tireless entrepreneur. Filled with creative ideas and fueled by the energy she gains as a speed-skating athlete, Rochel has launched her own business: Joyful Bath Company. All of her products are hand-made from natural salts, delightfully packaged with materials that are easily recyclable. They are concocted to help relieve the stresses and strains of the modern world. Rochel has a couple of part-time employees who she pays fairly according to the minimum wage laws of Maryland, where she is based out of her home. I think Joyful Bath is a socially responsible, environmentally-friendly, small business that deserves my support, but I won’t call it “Fair Trade.” Am I right? Wrong? Why does it matter?

Let’s add a little new chatter to all this media and Blog Action Day attention of Fair Trade: right/wrong, good/bad, fad/movement, green or not?

1 comment:

  1. In recognition of Fair Trade Month, we want to spread the word of Fair Trade Sports. Fair Trade Sports has joined the battle against Child Labor with their practices. Fair Trade Sports RESPECT® sports balls are certified for quality by several third party agencies, including NFHS, FIFA, and SA8000. Rest assured Fair Trade Sports balls are hand stitched by adults who are paid a certified living wage and ensured healthy working conditions.

    Fair Trade Sports balls (soccer, football, basketball, rugby, volleyball, and more) are a great eco-friendly, green gift that are a tangible proof point to educate US consumers on the benefits of Fair Trade and the Fight against child labor, with all after-tax profits going to charity.

    Thank you to everyone for your support and happy playing!!

    Monica Turley