What is Fair Trade?

What is Fair Trade?

Did you know that...

Ten Thousand Villages was North America's first Fair Trade Organization in 1946. The first product? Needlework linen from Puerto Rico!

In 1968 the United Nations Conference on Aid and Development choose to get on board with a "trade not aid" policy.

Equal Exchange imported coffee from Nicaragua as a political statement and established the first Fair Trade Cooperative in North America in the mid 80s.

The term "Fair Trade" encompasses the following ethical principles: living wages, safe working conditions, no child labor, transparency on the part of the organization, eliminating unnecessary middlemen, environmentally friendly practices.

Fairtrade Federation is a brand that charges companies a fee to use their label. There's quite a bit of controversy around if this label is helping consumers differentiate when a company is using ethical labor practices and when a company simply sees this as a marketing boost. - All in all: be skeptical when prices are extremely high and companies aren't transparent about their labor practices. 

Under the Fairtrade Certification label, different products have different standard they must meet and there are several products that don't have a standard yet in the USA (mainly paper & textiles).  

Fair Trade Fabric Weaving

You may have noticed that we here at Purse & Clutch prefer to use the term "fair wages" in place of "Fair Trade." For the artisan groups we choose to work with, we have a much higher standard than simply that they are being paid a fair wage, but we find that it's easy to get tangled in the misconceptions around the term "Fair Trade" and the multiple definitions and misuses. You may have also heard the phrase we use "sustainable, dignified, living wage jobs." Each one of those pieces is a core principle that we make certain is ingrained in the culture of the work of our partners. 

  • Sustainable: Both environmentally sustainable as well as helping create a job that can be relied upon for the long term. For us, this means we take our partnership with the artisan groups we work with very seriously and work to be a consistent purchaser of their purses and clutches from season to season. We also LOVE hearing about creative uses for scraps of materials - such as our partner in Uganda using left over leather strips from a local shoemaker to make straps for their bags. 
  • Dignified: We believe that in doing our due diligence in studying what is on trend here in the States, we can help provide a shopping experience that is full of purses and clutches that are in style and therefore stand on their own. We also insure that our artisan partner groups are treated with the respect that all men and women deserve and have realistic, consistent hours they work in a pleasant work culture.
  • Living Wage: While this differs from country to country, often the artisans we work with are making two or three times the typical factory wage and many can work from home so they aren't forced to bring their children to sit in often times dangerous factory conditions. We are very intentional about keeping the number of middlemen low so that making Fair Trade purchases are available to more people.

The best definition I've seen is that:

Fair Trade allows people to invest in communities across the world connecting them with markets they may never have access to.

Here is a greatarticlegoing in deeper to the question of what Fair Trade is that I would encourage you to read! We'd love to hear your thoughts on what buying Fair Trade means to you, especially in light of the recent news concerning large retail companies in the US not signing an agreement on factory safety in Bangladesh.

Sources:
Fair Trade Timeline
Fair Trade USA
Fair Trade Pop Up Shop
Ethical Objections to "Fair Trade" Labeling
Traidcraft

May 21, 2013 by Jen Lewis
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