A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Americans tend to pride themselves on getting a “bargain”, getting a good deal. But often a cheap price means that people in other countries aren’t getting a fair wage.
-- Nancy Jones, Chicago Fair Trade Director
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Fair Trade commerce is growing steadily, and there is a lot of confusion about what is a Fair Trade product. BuzzFlash recently talked with Nancy Jones, head of Chicago Fair Trade, to give her thoughts on the Fair Trade movement for economic justice.
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BuzzFlash: What is Fair Trade?
Nancy Jones: Fair Trade is a market-based system of alternative development that empowers producers in developing countries in transparent, honest trade relationships with importers and consumers globally. Fair Trade producers of items such as coffee, tea, chocolate, wine, flowers, and crafts are paid a living wage, have safe working conditions, are organized democratically, and engage in environmentally sustainable practices.
BuzzFlash: Tell us about some of the questions that have been raised to determine if a product is actually Fair Trade.
Nancy Jones: Fair Trade commodities, such as coffee, tea, sugar, chocolate, rice, and wines, are certified by Transfair USA which reviews worker and environmental practices.
BuzzFlash: Is there “Fair Trade washing” just as there is “green washing”?
Nancy Jones: Fair Trade has a third party certifier that we use, Transfair USA, which verifies worker and environmental practices, much like getting an organic certification. We’ve seen some groups call themselves “direct trade” or “fairly traded” and list their own philosophy or practices. While many of these folks may be good people, doing good things in other parts of the world, I can’t personally meet and talk with these people to verify they are doing what they say. I have to either take their word for it or rely on someone else – a third party certifier – to verify. It just becomes confusing to consumers. At this point in the national movement, we’re asking for groups using certification to be recognized as fair trade outlets even though it may leave out some good people and good products.
BuzzFlash: What is the purpose of the World Fair Trade Day on May 9?
Nancy Jones: This international celebration is to raise awareness and educate more people about fair trade. There are celebrations or events planned in over 45 countries. Here in Chicago, we’re celebrating World Fair Trade Day on Monday, May 4 from 10 AM –6 PM in the Daley Plaza, a central Loop location so that hundreds of people could participate during their lunch hours. A drum circle will start at 11am and a short program at noon will be coordinated by Jerome McDonnell of World View (of Chicago Public Radio) and feature Pushpika Freitas, founder of Marketplace: Handwork of India and Commissioner Suzanne Malec-McKenna, of the Department of Environment.
BuzzFlash: How quickly is the Fair Trade movement growing?
Nancy Jones: Here are a few statistics from the Fair Trade Federation Trends Report published in March 2009:
Some overarching statistics describe Fair Trade Organizations (FTOs):
78.4% of FTOs are for-profit businesses, up from 54% in 2003
81% are involved in wholesale/importing, up from 67% in 2003
13.8% have been in operation for more than 20 years
Some overarching statistics describe the producer partners of North American FTOs:
76% of Fair Trade Production is done by women
69% of artisans and farmers involved in Fair Trade are ethnic minorities
Central America and South Asia remain the predominant source FTO areas
Fair Trade Organizations averaged:
Nine North American full-time employees in 2008, up from an average of 7.45 in 2007
Partnerships with 7,049 people in producer communities in 2008
Sales of $517,384 in 2007, up from $499,893 in 2006
As consumer awareness grows about Fair Trade, conflicting forces influence Fair Trade Organizations. Recent studies indicate that 71.4% of US consumers have heard the term “Fair Trade” and 88% consider themselves conscious consumers, but only 6% could name a Fair Trade Organization unaided and fewer than 10% had purchased an item from an FTO.
BuzzFlash: If an American were to say to you, “Why should I pay a little more for a Fair Trade product?” what would your answer be?
Nancy Jones: Americans tend to pride themselves on getting a “bargain," getting a good deal. But often a cheap price means that people in other countries aren’t getting a fair wage. At the same time, we as Americans can be generous in giving charity. Fair trade helps us to connect with the idea that paying a bit more can be a more sustainable means of reducing global poverty than giving charity.
BuzzFlash: Some consumers think that Fair Trade is solely about more equitable pay for workers, but tell us about some of the essential missions of Fair Trade companies and non-governmental organizations in areas such as job training, improving community education, sustainability, and building community infrastructure in areas such as housing and water availability.
Nancy Jones: The majority of fair trade projects are linked to a cooperative organization which is democratically run and makes decisions about the use of the fair trade premium, a premium that is in addition to the price that each worker receives. This premium is often applied to community projects such as schools, water projects, and health clinics. In last year’s floods in Pakistan, the homes of fair trade producers survived the floods better than other residents because the higher wages allowed the residents to build sounder structures.
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A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW