We live in a time of massive, unprecedented trade: Goods, information and money all flow across borders almost seamlessly. In the developed world we are active participants in this global economy. The huge range and accessibility of goods means that we are pretty disconnected from the products that we so easily buy, and then discard.
This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it weren’t for the fact that 2 billion people live on less than $2 per day. Well below the poverty line, and at times barely managing to meet the basic human needs of nutritional food and access to clean water.
An inexpensive treat for us like chocolate, can involve in the Ivory Coast, 1.8 million children working on cocoa plantations, sometimes against their will. It is more than likely that they have never ever tasted a piece of chocolate.
With all this news of injustice and intense poverty I got to the point where I would avoid the news, as the problems in the world seemed to get bigger and more complicated every year. Governments and large organisations needed to fix this. It was well beyond anything that I could make a difference to.
Then a trip to Vietnam three years ago really opened my eyes and made me see first hand the disparity between nations; between those that consume and those that make what we consume.
The people that I met were full of joy and smiles, despite the fact that to my eyes their lives looked so hard as they had so little. This was the case there and in every other developing country that I have visited since. I realised that what they all had shining within them, despite their impoverishment, was hope. Hope for change. Hope for the means to achieve a better life.
When I started this journey at one point I had to explain to my 6 year old son what I meant when I talked about Fair Trade. In his language, and even now, fair trade is refreshingly simple.
A fair price is paid for a days work in a safe environment.
Having always known his family to work under those circumstances he couldn’t see why this should be too difficult to achieve. Why did products need to have labels on them identifying them as being made in ‘Fair Trade’ conditions? Surely, that should just be how the world works?
Unfortunately, as I explained to my son, this isn’t always the case. In many families, throughout the world, fathers can work all day and still not be able to properly feed their families. Mothers wishing to be able to educate all of their children may have to choose only one to be lucky enough to attend school.
Conversely, in our daily lives, something as mundane to us as choosing what coffee to drink or what clothes to wear can have a dramatic impact on the lives of people in the developing world.
Our decision making for our purchases usually covers taste, quality and price. We’re not in the habit of questioning who made it and under what circumstances. But what if we did ask questions? Would it make a difference?
After my time in Vietnam when I started to explore the social, economic, and environmental weight of our purchases, I began to understand that these ‘goods’ are more than just commodities. They’re also a connection between human beings thousands of miles away in the developing world, and us.
Just because we don’t know the people who make what we buy doesn’t mean they aren’t affected by our purchase. These are human beings that work and strive, as we do, to provide for and improve the lives of their families. People who hope to have dignified incomes, fulfil their potential and decide on their own futures.
What Fair Trade does
In the global marketplace big multi-national companies have a lot of power and can dictate the terms of trade - efficiency at all costs, lowest prices, and little consideration for social, economic and environmental impacts.
The Fair Trade movement started as a response to this global trade paradigm that focused too much on profits and not people. Their goal was to tilt the balance toward farmers and workers, if even just a little bit, ensuring they got a fairer deal through better prices and decent working conditions.
Labour laws in the developing world are either weak or not enforced and that is really what is driving these issues. Through collaboration Fair Trade enables producers to work together to change the terms of trade, access the global market place and improve the lives of their families.
Fair trade is a powerful force for change. Producers have been empowered both in the marketplace and in securing social services that their governments should provide, but don’t.
But to truly succeed in building a just economy where everyone is treated with respect and can meet their basic human needs we need your help.
As consumers we have the power to demand what products are supplied to us. Whether it’s local, organic, sustainable or Fair Trade. Consumers demand what is made available to sell and ultimately consumers demand what is produced. As consumers we should also be able to demand how it is produced. We have the power, and with power comes responsibility.
Our choices shouldn’t be limited on price. We should also have an eye towards the human cost of the things that we consume - the hands behind the products that we hold.
By purchasing Fair Trade we have the power to change the world every day. We get to play a role in changing an unjust system based on the exploitation of vulnerable people around the world. To make a real impact on people, their families and the environment.
However, Fair Trade needs to become more than a niche – it needs to grow into the norm, a true alternative to trade systems that trap far too many in poverty.
Through a strong impetus on investing in the things that lead to long-term growth and development – better nutrition, clean drinking water, education and economic development - positive differences can be made.
This World Fair Trade Day I wish to emphasise both the need and the hope of so many to be able to lead the kind of dignified lives that everyone deserves.
Hope itself can be ethereal. It is one thing to keep hope alive but the hope I see in faces of our artisan partners is as tangible as the products they make. The true hope of an empowered and positive life, coupled with the desire and direction to achieve this despite the difficulties they face.
My hope is that by acting together as a global community, connected through thought and action, we can all work towards making our world a fairer place. I am optimistic, but optimism has its focus in the present time, while hope sets its eyes on the future – the promise and the chance for a better way.
I’m not content to settle for the world as it is. I hope you feel the same, and will join us this World Fair Trade Day to help us remake the world into a fairer place for all.
By Sophia Willcocks
Sophia is the founder of KeapSake. Keapsake began with the hope of creating employment opportunities in developing countries so that people can earn sustainable incomes and, in doing so, work towards eliminating poverty. We believe the best people to help communities are those that are part of them. Rather than enacting temporary relief measures or sending money as part of short-term aid, we want to invest in communities so that they are empowered to create change for themselves.
At KeapSake we believe in the saying that the people closest to the problem are closet to its solution. By working together with artisans in emerging economies we support local craft development, as well as celebrate the skills of each region.
Through trade, families and predominately women who often have limited access to paid work, are able to gain economic independence, preserve traditional crafts and create brighter futures for their children. Direct trade creates better educated, prosperous and more stable societies which, we believe, makes the world a better place.