FreesetAt the age of 13, Kondola became the tenth wife to an older man and a servant in her in-laws’ house. Shortly after, she was tricked, sold and forced into prostitution in Sonagachi, Kolkata. She was forced to work in order to send money back to her family, who lived in Murshidabad, a high-risk district of West Bengal for human trafficking. Her future looked incredibly bleak. That was until she started a conversation with Annie and Kerry Hilton on the street. Along with twenty other brave women, she took the step to leave the sex trade business that she was unjustly forced into and began a sewing job with Freeset.

How Did This Organization Begin?

In 1999, Kerry and Annie Hilton left New Zealand and moved to Kolkata, signing for an apartment in the middle of the day. To their surprise, by nightfall, they discovered they had moved into one of Asia’s largest red-light areas, Sonagachi, and their neighbors were women who were forced into prostitution. They began building relationships with the women around them, including Mina, a woman who shared a similar past to many others, was advocating for new employment opportunities to help. Head of In-Country Communications, Sophie Bond, told The Borgen Project, despite the fact that “the Hiltons had no experience in manufacturing or business”, they were determined to be compassionate and trustworthy employers who could offer training and a secure job to these women, “to bring real change and freedom”.

Human Trafficking in India

Human trafficking in India is still a prevalent issue that the government must tackle. Two-thirds of the population live in poverty, with 68.8 percent living on less than two dollars per day. A small percentage of the population has benefited from the recent economic boom, in which 133 million Indians rose out of poverty between 1994 and 2012, yet there has been a steady increase in trafficking and violence, with almost 20,000 women and children trafficked in 2016. Victims usually belong to poor families in rural areas, with 70 percent of trafficking victims being members of the Dalit class of the caste system, among the most disadvantaged socio-economic groups in India. Members are prone to vulnerabilities and the pressures of survival make them easy targets to trick with false promises of repaid debts and money for their families. Women are the most vulnerable as social pressures have confined them to the domestic sphere, resulting in having a lack of education and literacy. They are also prevented from any justice or equality, further subjecting them to human rights abuses.

Freeset Today

Today, Freeset makes about 50,000 t-shirts and 240,000 bags per year. All staff members earn wages, with entry-level staff earning slightly more than the average garment maker in West Bengal. The designs are made by the women themselves, as well as by those who have volunteered at the organization. The organization typically sells in bulk orders to larger businesses looking to add their own logos to the merchandise. Bond shared that currently, about 200 women are employed and 30 men. In most cases, each woman supports at least three other family members and share eerily similar, yet simultaneously unique stories of being forced into prostitution by trafficking and poverty.

Freeset Offers Counseling

Tamar, an organization funded by the Freeset Trust, is a means of holistic care in each community. Bond told The Borgen Project, “Tamar is there to help with life skills and supporting women in their new path”. Several of the Tamar staff members are trained in Trauma-informed care, which is a huge part of the lives of the women working at Freeset. “For many of them, traumatic experiences–in the sex trade, as victims of trafficking, in domestic violence–have left deep mental and emotional (not to mention physical) scars. Counselling can help a woman to understand her own behaviors and reactions, as a result of the trauma she has experienced, and give her the tools to integrate into the workplace, and ‘normal’ society”. Additionally, as of 2016, Freeset has been awarded Fair Trade Guaranteed status by the World Fair Trade Organization (WTFO).

What is the World Trade Organization?

Home of Fair Trade Enterprises, this organization recognizes those who are empowering their staff to alleviate poverty. The goal of the WTFO is to transform communities by empowering women, practicing sustainable methods, and applying a community concept to trade those who are typically exploited by larger corporations.

What is Fair Trade?

Fair Trade has become an increasingly integral part of poverty alleviation, as it now impacts about one million livelihoods, with 74 percent of those being women. In fact, 54 percent of senior roles in fair trade organizations are held by women. Fair Trade policies aim to help empower people to combat poverty, strengthen, and take control of their own lives.

What Is The Government Doing To Help?

In India today, women constitute about 14 percent of the total entrepreneurship. However, the lack of equal access to education, employment, labor, and sexual violence hinders further advancements. The government has struggled to combat the issue of human trafficking, as it has been so widespread. Currently, it is looking toward crime prevention and harsher penalties for child prostitution and forced marriage, as well as improvements to protect victims. However, India’s vast landscape and corruption of officials still pose as obstacles that the government must overcome to further the progress throughout the country.

Check this out to see how you can get involved with Freeset: https://freesetglobal.com/volunteer/

– Adya Khosla
Photo: Flickr

People Tree FoundationWithin the last two decades, the fashion industry has become increasingly cheap and accessible. The term fast fashion refers to rapidly and cheaply produced apparel that cycles out according to ever-changing trends. This term has been integrated into most fashion brands’ profit-oriented business models and has negatively impacted impoverished communities in developing countries.

Fast fashion brands often exploit poor countries for cheap labor, and many supply chains that are connected with big-name brands do not provide safe working conditions or sufficient living wages. For example, nine out of 10 fashion workers in Bangladesh cannot afford enough food for their families.

The People Tree Foundation

However, People Tree is defying the harmful practices of the fashion industry. People Tree is a fair trade brand, based in London and Tokyo, which takes a more people-oriented approach to fashion. People Tree’s work focuses on promoting sustainability, empowering women and improving conditions in poor communities. This fair trade brand is dedicated to producing ethically-made and sustainable clothing by using environmentally friendly materials and implementing good working conditions. People Tree refers to their practices as “slow fashion.”

People Tree is not just a fashion brand; it also works alongside an independent charity called the People Tree Foundation. The foundation works to accomplish three main goals: reduce poverty, protect the environment and spread awareness about fair trade. To reach these goals, People Tree raises funds to provide education and training to people in developing countries, protect the environment by using organic materials and campaigning to raise awareness about sustainable and ethical fashion.

The People Tree Foundation works in countries that are vulnerable to exploitation such as Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Kenya. These countries are susceptible to the injustices of fast fashion because the garment industry dominates their economy and comprises the majority of jobs. The foundation is involved with a variety of fair trade projects in these developing countries that aim to empower artisan groups in small communities.

In 2015, the People Tree Foundation generated more than £10,000 from sales and donations. The funds raised for that year were donated to projects such as Thanapara Swallows. Thanapara Swallows is a nongovernmental organization in Bangladesh committed to educating and training the poor population and creating health awareness and self-employment opportunities. Thanapara Swallows built a school in Bangladesh that educates nearly 300 students who are getting five years of primary education, and People Tree supports 50 percent of their school’s running costs.

Other Sustainable Solutions

In the fight against fast fashion, People Tree is not alone. Many fair trade organizations and brands have been on a rise in popularity. For example, the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), which People Tree is a member of, is among the organizations leading the movement toward ethical and sustainable fashion.

The WTFO has over 330 Fair Trade Enterprise members and over 70 supporting organizations that are committed to abiding by fair trade practices, including respecting the environment, ensuring gender equality, providing fair wages and good working conditions and ensuring opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers. The WTFO has impacted over 965,700 livelihoods by creating a fair trade standard for brands to follow. Brands verified are by the WTFO through peer reviews and independent audits.

Ultimately, the future of fashion remains in the hands of the consumer. Making conscious purchases makes the world one step closer to making the production of apparel more sustainable and humane. Other ways to practice sustainability include reducing consumption by buying only what you need, buying only secondhand clothing and researching the companies behind products online or on the website and mobile app Good On You.

– Louise Macaraniag
Photo: Media Server

Why people should shop fair tradeOver three years ago, Cathy Marks was hired for the managing position at the fair trade store, Ten Thousand Villages, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. When the previous company she worked for, a franchising company, was sold, Marks was temporarily unemployed. During this time, she decided to look for a career in “something more meaningful.”

Having shopped at Ten Thousand Villages in the past, Marks said she was “intrigued as a customer” from the positive impact Ten Thousand Villages makes in preventing global poverty. It didn’t take long before she applied for the position. Since then, Marks is enjoying her job in the fair trade industry. She says her favorite part is telling stories about the artists to customers because the stories allow customers to make connections between specific artisans and their culture with their products.

Marks believes fair trade is necessary because it helps people in developing countries have higher standards for their communities, their homes and their educational systems. Here are 10 reasons why people should shop fair trade.

10 Reasons Why People Should Shop Fair Trade

  1. Fights Global Poverty and Hunger – Fair trade guarantees workers are paid at least a “minimum floor price,” or the amount it costs for them to produce their product. This standard ensures workers are not living in poverty, resulting in them being able to live comfortably with an income that fulfills their basic household needs such as food and clothing. On top of that, it also ensures workers have a surplus sum of money which they are able to save for future needs.
  2. Empowers Workers – Because fair trade ensures workers are living above the poverty line, workers are able to spend less time worrying about where their next meal is coming from, and more time planning for their future. Instead of depending on others for help, they have control over their own lives. They have the ability, time and resources to make choices for the good of themselves and their community.
  3. Positively Impacts Communities – On top of their wages, workers in the fair trade industry are also given premiums. Premiums are funds that workers can put toward whatever they feel will best benefit their community. For instance, workers can use premiums to better their community’s educational system, healthcare system, environment, recreational facilities or water access. This ensures better conditions and futures for workers’ communities.
  4. Ensures Safe Working Conditions – Fair trade protects workers’ basic human rights. It ensures they work reasonable hours and work in an environment that is free of harmful chemicals and substances. Marginalized and vulnerable populations are equally protected under fair trade standards. Workers are paid a wage that allows them better health and better nutrition.
  5. Prohibits Child Labor – Fair trade standards ensure no forms of child labor and child slavery are used on farms. Children under the age of 18 are then able to attend school and lead healthier lives. The fair wage gives workers the resources they need to ensure their children receive proper nutrition.
  6. Protects Women’s and Minorities’ Rights – Fair trade ensures that women and minority workers are not discriminated against. No matter the workers’ age, race, religion, gender or ethnicity, all are treated equally. All are guaranteed fair wages and ethical working conditions.
  7. Promotes Environment Sustainability – Fair trade products are created using limited amounts of pesticides and fertilizers. They are not genetically engineered and utilize the most efficient amount of waste, water and energy as possible. In addition, many fair trade products are made from recycled materials. This helps preserve our planet’s natural resources.
  8. Keeps Indigenous Cultures Alive – When people shop fair trade, they get to experience multiple cultures from across the globe without having to go overseas. Each product, whether it be clothing, coffee beans, baskets or jewelry, comes from an artisan who spent their time and talent crafting the product. Through fair trade, artisans are able to keep their culture alive, share it with others and pass it down to the younger generations.
  9. Supports Ethicality – When shopping fair trade, people make a statement about how they think employees in developing countries should be treated– with fairness and equality. They are saying they believe all farmers and artisans should be paid at least minimum wage for the products they produce and that all farmers and artisans deserve to live a comfortable, healthy life. Buying fair trade raises awareness of the issue of unethical labor tactics.
  10. Meaningful Impact – Every time someone consumes a fair trade product, they are fulfilled, since they know their purchase is helping someone across the globe live a life free from poverty.

Like Marks encourages her customers, these 10 reasons show why people should shop fair trade. By shopping fair trade, workers’ rights are protected. They are treated equally and paid fairly. They are able to attend school and live in a comfortable, healthy environment. Their cultures are kept alive. When someone shops fair trade, they are helping keep the industry alive. Through a simple Google search, people can find a fair trade store near them to shop at and join the fight.

– Emily Turner
Photo: Fair Trade Product by Emily Turner

What You Need to Know about Fair Trade
Imagine being in the local supermarket, perhaps in the coffee aisle. There is an abundance of options, from decaf to french vanilla and everything in between. Some of the choices have a special seal marked “Fairtrade.” But what does that mean? Here are the facts to know about Fair Trade.

What is Fair Trade?

One fact to know about Fair Trade is the difference between Fair Trade and Fairtrade. Fair Trade is a set of social, economic and environmental standards for companies and the farmers and workers who grow the food millions enjoy each day. Fairtrade, on the other hand, is a trademarked labeling initiative that certifies a product has met the agreed Fair Trade criteria.

For farmers and workers, standards include the protection of workers’ rights and the environment. For companies, they include the payment of the Fairtrade Minimum Price and an additional Fairtrade Premium. This premium can be used to invest in business or community projects of the community’s choice.

How does Fair Trade combat poverty?

The Fair Trade argument is that the poor are being paid less than fair prices for their products in the free market trading system. The Fairtrade foundation states that its goal is to “empower marginalized producers to become economically stable and self-sufficient and to promote sustainable development, gender equality, and environmental protection.”

Offering decent prices for products can help support jobs and improve living conditions for producers, their families and the local businesses they buy from. It can also divert young men from involvement in militias. The intention is that this will ultimately decrease conflict levels in impoverished nations.

While not all poor states are volatile, data indicates that violent conflict contributes to poverty in a number of ways. It can cause damage to infrastructure, break up communities and contribute to increased unemployment and forced displacement of peoples.

Additionally, free trade boosts economic sectors, thereby creating more jobs and a source of stable increased wages. As developed countries move their operations into developing countries, new opportunities open for local workers. An increase in the general standard of living reduces hunger and increases food production. Overall, a higher income makes education more accessible, increases literacy, increases life expectancy and reduces infant mortality rates.

Fair Trade focuses on the exchange between individuals and companies. Fair Trade supply chains utilize direct partnerships that take into account the needs of individual communities. Often times, cross border supply chains strengthen ties between two or more nations. By bringing people together in mutually beneficial trade pacts and policies, Free Trade can contribute to a sense of peace in war-torn areas. Through cultural exchange, there is a rare absence of marginalization in this type of commerce.

What are the disadvantages to know about Fair Trade practices?

Although the Fair Trade movement has good intentions, it also has a few disadvantages.

Fairtrade targets farmers and producers who are financially secure enough to pay certification, inspection and marketing fees, which are necessary to ensure compliance with government regulations. Thus, the poorest farmers who would benefit most from Fairtrade certification are often excluded.

Fairtrade minimum prices and wages ensure fair payment of farmers. However, farmers for non-certified products are left at a considerable disadvantage. When prices fall in the world market, it is the non-Fairtrade certified farmers who suffer. That being said, prices in stores are not monitored by the Fairtrade Foundation. Thus, the producers receive only a small piece of the revenue from retail mark-ups.

Conversely, research conducted by various groups such as CODER, the Natural Resource Institute and Brazilian based BSD Consulting has shown positive impacts of Fair Trade practices around the globe. In Colombia for instance, a 2014 study by CODER assessed the impact of Fairtrade for banana farmers in small producer organizations and workers on plantations. The study concluded that Fairtrade, with the support of other organizations, contributed to a revival of the banana sector in Colombia and increased respect for human and labor rights. Other studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of Fairtrade on worker empowerment in Ecuadorian flower plantations and the benefits of Fairtrade orange juice for Brazilian smallholder farmers.

Here are the facts to know about Fair Trade that can help consumers make informed decisions in their daily lives. Many everyday food items like coffee, chocolate, fruit and nuts offer Fairtrade certified options in local grocery stores. Change is already happening in the Congo where Fairtrade certified gourmet coffee is sourced from war-torn regions. Companies such as Tropical Wholefoods have begun to sell Fairtrade certified dried apricots from northern Pakistan. Just an extra minute in the grocery aisle and a few extra cents to choose Fairtrade can make a big difference.

-GiGi Hogan
Photo: Flickr

grape industrySouth Africa, a country located at the southern tip of Africa and bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean, is home to a vast number of grape plantations. Many of the grapes that come from these plantations are used to make wines first-world consumers enjoy. Popular brands include Capensis Chardonnay, Porseleinberg Syrah, and Ernie Els Signature Blend. But as delicious and luxurious as these wines may be, the grape industry they come from are using unfair labor tactics.

Unethical Conditions

A 2017 study done by Vinmonopolet, an alcoholic beverage retailer in Norway, exposed numerous grape plantations in South Africa where farmers were working under unethical conditions. These conditions include the following:

  • Facilities that lacking regular health and safety checks
  • Employees experiencing verbal harassment and physical harassment
  • Facilities not issuing employees with employment contracts
  • Employees being paid below minimum wage
  • Employers prohibiting employees from joining trade unions
  • Exposing workers to dangerous pesticides
  • Scheduling workers for 12-hour days with no overtime payment

While it is common for reporters to label these unfair labor tactics in the grape industry as “modern-day slavery,” many people do not ask why these exploitative practices from the past still exist. Seeking to start that conversation, the District Six Museum was founded.

Changing the Grape Industry

Built in 2017 in the South African city Cape Town, the District Six Museum’s goals are threefold:

  1. In order to understand how exploitation in the wine industry perpetuates itself, one must have knowledge of what came before.
  2. The first step to challenging the unfair labor tactics in the grape industry is to have conversations about the intergenerational trauma ingrained within this ongoing exploitation.
  3. Colonial-era methods and mentalities continue to influence current labor practices.

As tourism expands in South Africa, so does the wine industry. It is common for tourists to take advantage of the delicious wines during their stay. However, as the District Six Museum notes, the majority of tourists are clueless when it comes to both contemporary and historical unfair labor tactics in the grape industry. Through advocacy and bringing about awareness, the District Six Museum is working to change that.

Being fully aware of what the District Six Museum exposes, Fairtrade Africa, a nonprofit organization that represents all Fairtrade-certified products in Africa, is working to end the unfair labor tactics in the grape industry. Established in 2005, this nonprofit fights for the rights of all African harvesters — whether they be in the grape industry or not.

Through advocacy and various projects, Fairtrade Africa had many successes in their effort to combat the unfair labor tactics in the grape industry. For example, Fransmanskraal, a farm on the South African Western Cape province that supplies grapes to Place in the Sun Wines, was able to use the premiums they received from Fairtrade Africa to improve the quality of their educational and recreational facilities. These premiums, which are not aid but are generated from business transactions, gave school-aged children the opportunity to attend school in their hometown, to participate in local sports matches and to improve nutrition by building vegetable gardens. The premium even helped one woman named Alvercia Juries attend and graduate from the University of Western Cape, making her the first college graduate in the Fransmanskraal community.

Another project Fairtrade Africa took on in the grape industry was reducing the use of coal to generate electricity in the Stellar Organics wine cellars. Western Cape, where Stellar Organics is located, can get very hot during the summer months. That is not good because wine needs to be kept at a certain temperature in order to be made just right. This is why Fairtrade Africa helped improve the insulation of Stellar Organics’ wine cellars, so they wouldn’t have to use so much coal to keep their wines at the right temperature. Ultimately, this allowed them to save electrical costs, be more environmentally sustainable and enhance the quality of their fair-trade products.

Fairtrade Africa encourages advocacy aimed at ending unfair labor tactics in the grape industry and is always accepting donations.

– Emily Turner
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Fair Trade TourismSouth Africa is home to sprawling plains with amazing wildlife, stunning mountain ranges and crystal blue coastlines. It is no wonder that it remains a supreme vacation destination for many people around the world. Despite its physical beauty, the country continues to struggle with high crime and violence rates due to large poverty gaps. The Fair Trade Tourism industry in South Africa is helping boost the country’s overall economy. Visitors help boost the country’s GDP when they choose to invest in travel experiences and accommodations that respect Fair Trade Tourism practices.

Fair Trade Tourism

Fair Trade Tourism is a non-profit organization that promotes responsible tourism in Africa through sustainability. They currently certify fair trade products and companies in South Africa, Mozambique and Madagascar in the Southern Africa region. Additionally, these countries have recognized agreements with other partner programs across the rest of the continent.

This non-profit works to help travelers in Africa seek out meaningful and authentic experiences and products that maintain high standards. Standards must include “fair wages and working conditions, fair purchasing and operations, equitable distribution of benefits and respect for human rights, culture and the environment.” In order to meet these standards, the organization has put in place six pillars for guidance with their own unique subcategories.

Pillars of Fair Trade

  1. Fair share: For tourism to be “fair share,” all participants in an activity, both the locals and the natives, should get a fair and direct cut of the income based on their unique level of contribution to it.
  2. Fair say: All parties involved in tourism should be able to voice their concerns and make decisions based on their values. These values should never be invalidated.
  3. Respect: Both those that host and those that participate should make sure they are respecting “human rights, culture and environment.” They can do this by choosing companies that enforce safe working conditions, protect young workers, promote gender equality, understand socio-cultural norms, reduce water and energy consumption as well as recycle, conserve natural habitats and their biodiversity and bring awareness to HIV/AIDS research.
  4. Reliability: Reliability is met via basic safety and security measures protecting all parties involved.
  5. Transparency: Tourism companies should make clear who owns a business, who shares the profits and where the money raised goes as well as be willing to answer any questions openly and honestly that tourists might have about the company’s missions, practices and values.
  6. Sustainability: Companies should seek sustainability via open-mindedness to increased knowledge, continuous improvements to resources via networking and relationship building, responsible use of resources for economic and environmental safety and support to marginalized groups.

The Importance of Fair Trade Tourism

Seeking out experiences that value these standards helps South Africa on the micro and macro level. On the micro level, it helps individual people working in the tourism industry to gain access to better benefits and working practices, improving their quality of life.

On the macro level, investing in these practices will have an overall better impact on the environment and the culture while simultaneously boosting South Africa’s global economy. The more money earned from the tourism industry, the more it will continue to improve in both environmentally and people friendly ways. This creates a virtuous cycle moving forward.

For South Africans, tourism remains one of the top industries for the economy. The Western Cape, where the bustling city of Cape Town is located, is South Africa’s most developed tourism region. It has grown faster than other areas and has created more jobs than any other industry in the province.

The National Development Plan names tourism as one of the top creators of employment and economic growth. Tourism, directly and indirectly, supported about 1.5 million jobs in South Africa in 2017. If the industry continues to grow at the pace it has been, it has the potential to create a real economic and social transformation for South Africans.

How People Can Help

There are several Fair Trade Tourism partners that tourists can seek out if planning a trip to South Africa or the Southern African region. Potential tourists should make sure they are checking any booked accommodations or experiences to ensure they are practicing Fair Trade. It is an easy solution to the problem of exploitation in the tourism industry. It makes for a better experience for both the locals benefitting from tourism as well as for the visitors themselves.

Meredith Breda
Photo: Flickr

Ethical TradingFair Trade is a buzzword these days, but what impact does it really have? As fair trade business models are around longer and grow in popularity, there is time to assess what positive impacts they actually have. The U.K.’s Ethical Trading Initiative is an alliance of organizations that work together to promote and support ethical codes of labor throughout the supply chain. Impacting the lives of more than 10 million workers every year, The Ethical Trading Initiative promotes giving a voice to local workers, transparent business practices and government intervention to protect workers’ rights. After 21 years of dedication to impoverished workers, people are able to measure the positive impacts of The Ethical Trading Initiative.

5 Positive Impacts of The Ethical Trading Initiative

  1. More Safety Regulations: One of the largest impacts has been on improving working conditions. This includes better training on emergency drills, improved fire safety and safer chemical use. Additionally, work environments have better hygienic standards as well as improved water and sanitation facilities. Changes in health and safety empower workers to feel safer at work and have better health, which improves their quality of life.
  2. Reasonable Working Hours: Overall, suppliers have reduced workers’ hours to be more reasonable although workers’ reactions to the reduced hours have been mixed. Those with families enjoy the extra free time while some single workers prefer to work (and thus earn) as much as possible. Additionally, workers are paid higher rates for overtime and earn double rates for working on Sundays. Ultimately, wages still need to be raised to combat the need to work as many hours as possible to support basic needs.
  3. A Reduction in Child Labor: Ethical codes and buyer pressure both aid in decreasing the employment of children. Specifically for children ages 16-17, an increase in checking age by official documents has contributed to lower rates in child employment. Poverty is the root cause of child labor. As ethical working conditions continue to improve, lifting more people out of poverty, child labor will continue to decrease.
  4. Worker & Manager Relations: Open, transparent dialogue between companies, managers and employees is key to establishing ethical working conditions. As a result of ethical labor codes, relations between management and workers continue to improve. On some sites, this has been the result of the establishment of workers’ committees that have improved communication practices. Establishing changes to increase communication and allow workers’ voices to be heard is foundational to deciding ethical labor codes.
  5. Physical and Social Well Being: As a result of all the previous improvements combined, workers’ physical and social well beings are increasing dramatically. Studies show that physical and social benefits are being felt by all workers and have effects not just in the workplace but also at home and on their long-term health. These improved and enforced ethical codes have a drastic impact on workers. Workers are less vulnerable to social problems resulting from income instability or health problems. This improves a worker’s ability to ultimately escape poverty.

In the face of increased demand for more products and faster production rates, the Ethical Trading Initiative helps raise awareness of ethical labor codes among managers. Ultimately, this awareness of codes pressures managers to adhere to more ethical practices. When companies take the time to think about the individuals behind every product produced as humans with rights, the ripple effects of change can begin. While there is still a lot of progress that needs to happen to empower impoverished workers globally, the positive impacts of the Ethical Trading Initiative continue to influence a consumer world that prioritizes human rights over profit.

Amy Dickens
Photo: Flickr

Many Hands Fair Trade ShopMany Hands Fair Trade Shop, located in Liberty, Missouri, sells fair trade items from a global community of artisans and workers. The shop — open between the months of March and December — benefits fair trade sellers in over 30 countries.

What is Fair Trade?

Fair trade is a concept that began around the 1980s in an effort to provide sustainable compensation and livelihoods to the producers and workers who make globally-traded products.

Essentially, consumers pay slightly more for internationally-traded products to ensure that a fair wage is paid to the producers of the products. Additionally, fair trade organizations set standards on the products produced, including environmental and human rights standards for producers and a fair trade minimum price for consumers.

What is Fair Trade’s Impact?

In 2016, there were over 1,400 fair trade certified producer organizations in over 70 countries who work to ensure fair compensation to over 1.6 million workers and producers. In fact, 23 percent of fair trade workers are women, a position that empowers them to help build their communities and work in a meaningful way.   

By selling solely fair trade products, Many Hands Fair Trade Shop uses their small storefront to contribute in a large way to producers all over the world. Established in 2015, the store works to ensure they are providing “a channel for these [fair trade sponsored] artisans to sell their products, [and] offering them an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and embrace a better life.”

What is the Many Hands Fair Trade Shop?

Cindy Noel, one of the managers of the Many Hands Fair Trade Shop, spoke with The Borgen Project about the efforts of the store’s managers to ensure as much income as possible goes to the fair trade producers.

“We put everything back into buying fair trade items so we can support more fair trade artisans and farmers. We have had to purchase a few shop displays but we ask for donations of most things and really have bought very few things. We are frugal. No one takes a salary,” said Noel.

The store is so serious about putting all the profit back into fair trade they have made an agreement with the Second Baptist Church of Liberty in Missouri — the owners of their property and sponsors of the store’s mission — to pay no rent on the storefront.  

The store purchases its products from a variety of companies, mainly SERRV, Papillion and Equal Exchange — all of which are members of the Fair Trade Federation or the World Fair Trade Organization.

All three of the store’s suppliers buy and sell products from fair trade producers in many different countries. SERRV purchases from producers in 24 different countries; Papillion benefits artisans in Haiti; and Equal Exchange has partnered with over 40 farmer producers over the world.

How Does Fair Trade Benefit its Producers?

Noel continued to describe the ways in which the store, and more generally fair trade, benefits its producers:

“The artisans and farmers are guaranteed an ethical wage and provided a safe place to work before we order our merchandise. Most times their children are cared for and educated in schools where their parents work. Sometimes workers who have broken free of the sex trade, or who have diseases and are shunned, work at home and provide for their families by joining a home based co-op,” Noel said.

Going Above and Beyond

Through the international network of fair trade, Many Hands Fair Trade Shop is making it possible for hundreds of fair trade producers to pursue meaningful work while earning fair and sustainable wages.

By taking no profit or salary from the shop, the managers at Many Hands are going above and beyond to see to it that every possible cent is put back into purchasing fair trade products. Through these admirable efforts, the organization will continue to support producers and workers in over 30 countries all over the world.

– Savannah Hawley

Photo: Savannah Hawley

Patagonia and Fair Trade USAFair Trade Certified: recognized by most from a coffee package or chocolate bar. Farmers, however, are not the only workers that benefit from Fair Trade Certification. The disconnect between the source and purchase of a good is one that Fair Trade USA is working to connect.

What Do Patagonia and Fair Trade USA Do?

Patagonia is leading the apparel industry in support of Fair Trade Certified goods. Patagonia and Fair Trade USA have partnered to help over 42,000 workers improve their quality of life since 2014. A solid 75 percent of Fair Trade USA’s disbursements to workers come from business partners like Patagonia, while the other 25 percent comes from contributions from corporations and foundations.

The Patagonia and Fair Trade USA program involves Patagonia paying for use of the Fair Trade Certified label. The money goes directly to the workers making the apparel. Once the disbursement is received, the employees decide how to use it by vote. Over the years, workers who make Patagonia clothing have used their disbursements for household appliances as well as childcare and healthcare.

Examples of Fair Trade Benefits

At the Hirdaramani factory in Agalawatta, Sri Lanka, Fair Trade disbursements provided a free daycare facility for the worker’s children. This ensures that even workers with families continue to thrive.

In addition, the community chose to build a health and hygiene program that provides things like sanitary pads. The health program doubles as a safe space to talk about reproductive health, which is considered taboo in Sri Lankan culture.

In Mexico, 1,500 workers at Vertical Knits factory used their Fair Trade disbursement to buy bicycles and stoves, improving either their work commute or home life. VT Garment Co., Ltd.’s disbursement paid school tuition for 265 children in Thailand and provided a fun community day to celebrate the factories successes.

These partnerships alone improved the lives and communities of over 4,500 workers. According to Patagonia, other benefits of Fair Trade Certification include “maternity and paid leave, no child or forced labor, and additional money back to workers.”

Effects of Unfair Working Conditions

Although partnerships like Patagonia and Fair Trade USA provide endless benefits to workers’ physical and mental health, thousands of workers in the apparel industry continue to work in sweatshops where working conditions are unsafe and wages are not livable. According to War on Want, a worker’s rights charity organization, many are “working 14 to 16 hour days seven days a week.”

Fires and collapsing buildings killed hundreds of workers in 2012 as factories were unregulated. Soon after these incidents in Bangladesh, factories began implementing fire safety and building codes to ensure workers safety. Though improvements are being made, there are still millions of workers being underpaid and overworked in the garment industry.

How Fair Trade USA is Helping Workers

Currently, Fair Trade USA works with over 1,250 companies internationally, helping workers out of poverty by providing safe working conditions and livable wages. As explained in the 2017 Fair Trade Certified Quality Manual, “When shoppers choose Fair Trade Certified goods, they are able to vote with their dollar – supporting responsible companies, empowering farmers and workers and protecting the environment.”

By purchasing goods that are Fair Trade Certified, consumers are ensuring the betterment of the workers’ lives by providing access to things like healthcare, education and modern appliances.  These things would not be accessible if not for programs like Fair Trade USA.

As abstract as it may seem, there are people behind every purchase. Continued support for organizations such as Patagonia and other Fair Trade Certified companies will change the lives of individuals and communities in monumental ways.

– Hope Kelly
Photo: Flickr

Trades of Hope Addresses Haiti’s Orphan Crisis Sustainably
Haiti currently ranks as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. With a population of 10 million, almost 60 percent of Haitians live under the national poverty line, which acts as a huge contributor to Haiti’s orphan crisis.

Conditions on Haiti

The country’s location on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean has also served as a large contributor to the nation’s extreme poverty. Hurricanes regularly blaze through this portion of the Atlantic Ocean, and the subsequent hurricanes that hit Haiti in August and September 2008, Gustav and Ike, killed nearly 800 Haitians and destroyed crops, making Haiti dependent on international relief efforts.

Only a year and a half later, another natural disaster struck the country. The January 2010 earthquake destroyed more infrastructure, ravaging the capital city, Port-au-Prince, and its surroundings, further harming Haiti’s functionality and increasing foreign aid dependence.

Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti in October 2016. This time the south was particularly ravaged, as the natural disaster damaged homes, infrastructure, more crops and livestock.

Orphans and Natural Disaster

The devastating consequences of natural disasters on the country’s resources and economy led to Haiti’s orphan crisis — currently, about 500,000 children are considered orphans. Interestingly, the Haitian government estimates that about 80 percent of these children have at least one living parent.

This confusing discrepancy seems directly linked to the series of natural disasters. For instance, the 2010 earthquake left more than two million Haitians — a fifth of the country’s population — homeless and caused many Haitian parents to believe their children would be better off in orphanages that would at least provide shelter.

Orphanages appear to have the resources to feed, educate and care for children whose parents struggle to combat the effects of natural disasters. This is an idealized view exacerbated by many orphanages who send employees into the community to encourage parents to send their children into the “shelters” for care.

Orphanages perform this reconnaissance as many shelters are not regulated and do not actually adopt children and instead exploit them as laborers. About 300,000 children work as servants in private residences in Haiti, and according to UNICEF, many children are also sold into the sex trade.

The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, has become a major market for Haitian child trafficking, with an estimated 2,000 children sold there each year. This abusiveness and corruption by some orphanages have created Haiti’s orphan crisis.

Combatting Corruption

Trades of Hope, an ethical jewelry company, seeks to treat Haiti’s orphan crisis at its root of poverty, instead of treating the symptoms. Co-founder Gretchen Huijskens already had a nonprofit in Haiti, with an orphanage, school and medical clinic, but while providing safe places for the orphans generated by natural disasters was important to her, Huijskens saw a need to help children by keeping them with family members. Such a goal requires parents being able to afford their children.

At the same time, co-founder Holly Wehde realized the effectiveness of the home-party method for sales, and Trades of Hope was founded in June 2010. These two influential individuals believe sustainable business provides a long-term solution to poverty. Therefore, Trades of Hope provides a platform for local artisans to sell their products.

Trades of Hope finds these artisans through nonprofits and co-ops in Haiti, that they verify through English speaking Americans in Haiti and with a Fair Trade Principles Agreement. Through these means, Trades of Hope helps artisans earn $15 a day, when the minimum wage in Haiti is about $5 a day. By their estimates, this money can provide adequate resources for two and a half children, enabling families to keep their children instead of fueling Haiti’s orphan crisis.

Fostering Global Involvement

The founders invite American women to partner in creating this sustainable business, through selling products as Compassionate Entrepreneurs and buying their goods through home parties and their website. Trades of Hope also eases the way for American women to make a difference in Haiti.

While assisting in alleviating the orphan crisis by adopting a child costs around $25,000, buying jewelry and other products from Haiti provides a cheaper alternative. One of the more expensive products is still only $80, and consumers receive a chocolate goat leather and cream canvas crossbody bag, called the Chandler Bag.

Sustainable Solutions

Even less expensive and more sustainable options exist such as the Revive Necklace, a long silver pendant with pink tassels priced at $33. The steel for the pendant comes from recycled steel oil drums, a source that allows more money to go directly to the artisans instead of materials.

This model of selling beautiful products to American consumers who want to support local artisans and their children has proved extremely lucrative and effective. Trades of Hope claims that 1,183 Haitians have been positively impacted.

The company has expanded to 17 countries since 2010 and has 9,440 full-time employees. This substantial group fosters the environment and provides the solutions to combat Haitian poverty at the root, and thereby reduce corruption and struggle as in Haiti’s orphan crisis.

– Charlotte Preston
Photo: Flickr