the BSCFABelize’s sugar cane production has been a major staple to its economy since the 1800s. Today, it supports the livelihood of around 15% of Belizeans, contributes to 6% of Belize’s foreign exchange income and adds 30% gross value to the country’s agriculture. Due to its overall importance, organizations have taken great steps to help protect sugar farmers and improve their working conditions. A major step toward this goal was when the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) became Fairtrade certified in 2008. Since then, the value of sugar from Belize has grown and better working conditions and human rights have been established.

Sugar Cane Farmers in Belize

Sugar cane farmers and plantation workers often struggle because sugar prices in international markets are low and processing sugar cane is long and expensive. Smaller farms also have trouble getting access to lucrative markets that would buy more sugar. The compensation smallholder farmers receive for cane often fails to cover the costs they incur to produce it, leaving them in a debt trap and with little capital to reinvest in farms. They also cannot pay for newer equipment that would help make the process easier, faster and cheaper. The significant amount of time invested in farming to provide an income often leaves little time to engage in other opportunities that can pull them out of poverty, such as education. Fairtrade aims to alleviate these problems by helping people and organizations get better representation in the market and better prices for their crops.

The Impact of Fairtrade Certification

Since 2008, Belize’s sugar cane exports have increased greatly, particularly in the European market. In the first five years of the BSCFA becoming Fairtrade certified, Belize’s sugar cane gross profit grew significantly. Belize has also been able to increase the amount of sugar cane produced every year due to farmers getting resources to control pests in the early stages of the growing process and access to better farming and processing tools. From 2018 to 2019 alone, Belize went from producing 150,000 tons to more than one million tons of sugar cane.

Impact on Communities in Belize

A huge benefit of being Fairtrade certified is that organizations will receive premiums — extra money that farmers and workers can invest in their businesses or the community. The BSCFA gets around $3.5 million in premiums a year and has used that as grants for education, building and repairs, community spaces such as churches and libraries, funerals for impoverished families, water tank systems and more.

The BSCFA has continued advocacy and empowerment efforts to improve the working conditions of sugar cane farmers. In 2015, the BSCFA took a strong stance against child labor, lobbying the government to make laws against child labor and personally suspending support of farms that violated fairtrade practices.

Due to advocacy efforts such as these, the government of Belize has taken steps to stop child labor, such as working on bills that help others identify child labor situations and updating its Child Labor Policy to add additional protection for children. It also established a Child Labor Secretariat that works on identifying and reporting child labor cases.

Fairtrade and the BSCFA have made significant strides in protecting the rights of sugar cane farmers while expanding the economy. These efforts are lifting people out of poverty and ensuring that fairness prevails.

– Mikayla Burton
Photo: Flickr

Harmless HarvestHarmless Harvest is an organic coconut brand that guarantees nonpesticide, chemical or GMO supplements in its young Nam Hom coconuts, harvested from Thailand. Known to be the first brand to introduce non-thermally pasteurized coconut water in the United States, its mission is to “create remarkable coconut products through sustainable farming practices while having a positive community impact,” says Harmless Harvest CEO, Ben Mand. Utilizing organic-certified Nam Hom coconut farms, Harmless Harvest ensures growing coconuts without “persistent pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or sewage sludge.”

Fair Wages for Workers

In addition to its commitment to clean practices and natural coconut products, Harmless Harvest guarantees social accountability through its Fair for Life certification. Fair for Life certification demonstrates the organization’s efforts to provide fair wages for its workers in Thailand. Fair for Life advocates for financial resiliency for all its workers and reallocates funds to support communities of farmers to found mobile health clinics and provide dental checks and water filtration systems. The certification promises social responsibility and fair trade to all the people involved in the production, which starts with farmers that harvest in the very beginning to the consumers that take home the products. 

Regenerative Coconuts Agriculture Project (ReCAP)

In December 2020, Harmless Harvest announced its partnership with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to introduce a new agricultural project called the Regenerative Coconuts Agriculture Project (ReCAP). This project aims to ensure a sustainable farming model with innovative coconut harvesting and the training of farmers to maximize their overall productivity. With plans to implement new regenerative farming methodology and agricultural management training for Thailand farmers, ReCAP considers many aspects of the harvesting process other than just the coconut’s quality.

Sustainable Farming and Education for Farmers

The main aspect of the project is to reinvent coconut farming and produce more eco-friendly efficiency. Harmless Harvest aims to implement new sustainable coconut harvesting practices by utilizing cover crops, which then increases the soil’s water absorption and reduces soil erosion during heavy rainfall. Other methods such as intercropping, bee-keeping and organic inputs were included in the coconut farm regeneration in efforts to promote clean farming.

The project also seeks to provide farmers with education in farm management and innovative agricultural practices that target longevity and resistance against climate change. By teaching farmers new strategies to increase biodiversity and resilience, sustainable coconut harvesting becomes a stepping stone to transitioning modern farming to regenerative agriculture. The brand’s overall goal is to rediscover a more environmentally sustainable and resistant farming methodology while also promoting farmers’ wages by the end of 2023.

Addressing Poverty Through Coconut Farming

Harmless Harvest’s project ReCAP shifts the coconut industry and other farm-dependent brands away from chemical-laden monoculture crop farming, which is susceptible to climate change and is inefficient environmentally. The project alleviates ecological stress and utilizes a more efficient system of production, which corresponds with Harmless Harvest’s overall mission of ethical practices. ReCAP seeks to encourage new methods of sustainable coconut harvesting and aims to increase the income of farmers by 10% or more by the end of 2023. From celebrating zero coconut waste in September 2020 to up-cycling and utilizing all parts of the coconut up to the husk, the brand continues to introduce techniques to better the planet and help farmers lift themselves out of poverty.

– Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Ben & Jerry's Pays Cocoa Farmers a Living WageWith 75 flavors spanning from classic Vanilla and Chocolate Fudge Brownie to Phish Food and Chunky Monkey, Ben & Jerry’s operates in 38 countries. Yet, the ultra-popular brand name signifies more than a tasty frozen treat. For much of its history, Ben & Jerry’s has been an outspoken supporter of social justice movements.  Ben & Jerry’s most recent efforts to create a more equitable future prioritize providing a living wage to cocoa farmers in West Africa.

Cocoa Farming in West Africa

The vast majority of the world’s cocoa beans are grown in West Africa, and especially in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Côte d’Ivoire alone exports 30% of cocoa beans sold to such chocolate makers as Nestlé and Mars.  The global chocolate market is a large one. It generates huge profits for the mostly European manufacturers who create chocolate bars and other sweets. In addition, it is extremely profitable for the retailers who sell these products on their shelves.  In 2014, for instance, sales for chocolate confectionary added up to $100 billion.

The value chain is incredibly lopsided, though. Côte d’Ivoire exports more cocoa beans than anywhere else in the world. Around 25% of the country’s population relies upon income generated from cocoa.  Yet these cocoa farmers earn barely $1 per day, less than the $1.90 that marks the extreme poverty line. International sales for chocolate depend upon these farmers and their laborers, but they will see just over 5% of a chocolate bar’s final value.

Cocoa farmers have long faced the challenge of a volatile market since predicted demand and harvest yields can drive prices up or down. Tim Adams highlighted this problem in The Guardian after the price Côte d’Ivoire farmers received fell sharply in 2017. At the same time, Barry Callebaut, which ranks among the world’s biggest cocoa processors and chocolate manufacturers, earned 12% more the next year, with a profit of $288 million.

Improving the Supply Chain with Fairtrade

Fairtrade International is one organization working to change this disparity. Since its founding in 1994, Fairtrade has sought to give small producers a square deal by creating more transparency in the supply chain. Although the organization now works with farmers on multiple continents growing a wide variety of crops—including bananas, tealeaves, sugar cane and coffee beans—cocoa was one of its first targets. This has meant that buyers of any Fairtrade-certified chocolate bar can be sure that:

  1. The Fairtrade Minimum Price cocoa farmers receive is geared towards covering production costs, even when prices fall.
  2. Farmers also receive a Fairtrade Premium that they can use to pay for any project they wish. In the past, these have included buying new trees and improving storage facilities.
  3. Cocoa producers agree to provide good working conditions for their hired workers. Discrimination, forced labor and child labor are all banned.

Finally, Fairtrade is working to establish living incomes for small-scale farmers and agricultural workers, over and above nationally set minimum wages. According to Fairtrade, a living income should allow people to afford nutritious food, decent housing and other essential needs with a small amount set aside to pay for unexpected emergencies.

Ben & Jerry’s Commitment

Here is where the ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s is stepping up to help the cocoa farmers. The company is a longtime supporter of Fairtrade. Additionally, it has paid millions in Fairtrade Premiums to small-scale farmers growing key ingredients like cocoa. Now, however, Ben & Jerry’s has committed to paying higher prices so that 5,000 farmers in Côte d’Ivoire will earn $600,000 more per year. Divided equally, each farmer will receive about $120 in additional income.

While the price increase will not immediately fill the gap between minimum wages and a living income, Ben & Jerry’s Chief of Social Mission Dave Rapaport has hopes for the future. He told Forbes that Ben & Jerry’s work with Fairtrade is an integral part of a larger strategy—and not just in Côte d’Ivoire. “This is one further step on a longer-term journey that will continue for us,” he said, “[because] we are really committed to helping farmers in our supply chain obtain living incomes and we will be expanding those efforts to supply chains beyond cocoa.”

Angie Grigsby
Photo: Flickr

10 Mission-Driven U.S. Coffee Shops Fighting Global PovertyAccording to the National Coffee Association, 64% of Americans above the age of 18 drink at least one cup of coffee per day. Coffee is clearly important for many Americans, but few think about the often impoverished communities where the coffee beans are grown. Only a select few countries are suitable for coffee production, and many of them are at an economic disadvantage. Recognizing this inequality, many U.S. coffee shops are incorporating ways to relieve global poverty into their business model. From partnering with international nonprofits to doubling as a refugee training program, these 10 mission-driven U.S. coffee shops are fighting global poverty with each morning iced latte.

10 Coffee Shops Fighting Global Poverty

  • Elevate Coffee: This mission-driven coffee shop in Phoenix, AZ believes that small donations go a long way in the fight against global poverty. With every purchase of a latte, Elevate Coffee donates $0.10 to Water 4 Kids, a nonprofit organization that works to make clean water more accessible in developing countries. Water 4 Kids provides clean water packaged in easily recyclable aluminum cans to children in areas where clean water is scarce.
  • 1951 Coffee Company: Taking inspiration from the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention where the protection of refugees was first discussed on an international level, 1951 Coffee Company is a nonprofit cafe based in Berkeley, CA that trains refugees for careers in specialty coffee. So far, their program has trained 79 individuals and created a supportive community for refugees in the local area.
  • Duo 58 Cafe: This cafe in Orlando, FL is committed to reducing world hunger. Duo 58 partners with a nonprofit organization called Mission of Hope that provides meals for children in Haiti. In 2020, Mission of Hope has been able to serve 101,000 meals to students every day.
  • The Well Coffeehouse: The Well Coffeehouse in Nashville, TN is taking a hands-on approach to relieving the conditions of global poverty. By funding the construction of wells in developing countries and forming strong relationships with the farmers who produce their coffee, The Well Coffeehouse is certainly “turning profits into hope.” So far, The Well Coffeehouse has funded the construction of 23 clean water wells in different African countries.
  • FEED Shop & Cafe: This mission-driven coffee shop in Brooklyn, NY is the first retail location of the nonprofit, lifestyle brand FEED. FEED sells products crafted by artisans in developing countries such as India and Sri Lanka and donates their profits to nonprofit organizations that relieve world hunger. Each price tag of a FEED item tells the buyer how many meals their purchase can provide in developing countries. At FEED Shop & Cafe, customers can enjoy great coffee and buy products that foster sustainable communities.
  • Ascension Cafe: Based in Dallas, TX, Ascension Cafe aids impoverished communities in coffee-producing regions. This cafe understands that the effects of poverty are multifaceted, so its profits go toward improving conditions for struggling communities in a variety of ways such as funding clean water projects and entrepreneurial programs.
  • MiiR Flagship: MiiR Flagship in Seattle, WA doubles as a cafe and shop that sells MiiR products, such as stainless steel bottles and tumblers that encourage sustainable living. With each purchase of a beverage or MiiR product, the company donates to poverty-reducing projects in 26 different countries. Since its start in 2010, MiiR has raised over $1.3 million!
  • The Roosevelt Coffeehouse: This mission-driven coffee shop based in Columbus, OH is partnered with a group of nonprofit organizations including Blood: Water Mission, Food for the Hungry and Gracehaven that work toward solutions to global hunger, clean water scarcity and human trafficking. The Roosevelt Coffeehouse doesn’t keep its humanitarian work under wraps—the brand strives to bring awareness to global injustices and inspire others to get involved.
  • Mocha Joe’s Cafe: This cafe in Brattleboro, Vermont serves coffee made by Mocha Joe’s Roasting Co. The company wants to cultivate flourishing ecosystems and communities, so its coffee blends are made with fair trade and sustainably-sourced beans. Additionally, Mocha Joe’s maintains direct trade partnerships with small coffee farms in Cameroon, Bolivia and Guatemala to encourage economic development in their communities.
  • Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee: With a “Do Good Initiative” at the core of its business, this coffee company based in Roswell, GA gives back directly to the communities that grow their coffee by funding projects to provide needed resources. Recently, Land of a Thousand Hills built a health clinic near Kivu and Ruli, two remote Rwandan villages.

These 10 coffee shops are doing their part to contribute to the global fight against poverty—one cup of coffee at a time.

Courtney Bergsieker
Photo: Flickr

Fair trade productsIn a global marketplace full of exploitative producers and hungry consumers, fair trade product markets can seem like a welcomed compromise that allows exporters in developing countries to prosper from their resources. These initiatives usually involve goods exported from developing countries to higher-income trading partners, including coffee, tea, cocoa and handicrafts. In more socially conscious trading models, producers are compensated equitably for their products and held to higher environmental and social standards. However, the true efficacy of fair trade models is complex.

Price and Accessibility

Consumer attitudes and behaviors play a significant role in the pervasiveness of fair trade products. Buyers often report positive attitudes toward more ethically traded items but are not always willing to pay the inevitably higher prices. As a result, fair trade products are still a more niche commodity, making up less than 1% of the market. Ironically, the extra expense of these items often makes them less accessible to lower-income consumers in developed countries, creating connotations of elitism. Despite these setbacks, the demand for more ethical products is steadily on the rise.

Fair Trade Product Marketing

Despite many well-intentioned consumer attitudes, fair trade product markets frequently feature marketing strategies that conjure up imperialistic images. Rather than honoring the work of exporters as equitable trading partners, many marketing campaigns portray farmers as grateful and dependent on western purchases.

Transparency in Fair Trade Certification

In products marked as fair trade, the certification might only apply to the product’s raw materials, rather than the full process of production. This means that a shirt made with fair trade cotton could have been manufactured in a sweatshop. Naturally, this lack of transparency can mislead consumers and dilute the meaning of the certification.

Economic Impact of Fair Trade

The efficacy of fair trade as a poverty management tool is up for debate as well. Although fair trade marketing is centered on empowering those in producing regions and reducing poverty, the effects are not as straightforward as many well-intentioned consumers might hope. A 2014 study theorizes that these practices are somewhat effective, “although on a comparatively modest scale relative to the size of national economies.”

Often, the poorest workers are spared the prosperity from fair trade product market practices. A study that observed coffee mills in Costa Rica between 1999 and 2014, explored the impacts of fair trade systems on household incomes within the region. Researchers found that farm owners and skilled growers reap most of the benefits. Unskilled laborers receive no benefits other than the economic spillover of an increasingly prosperous coffee-growing region.

Many requirements of the fair trade certification are inaccessible for growers with fewer resources. Smaller producers might struggle to pay the fees associated with becoming certified fair trade producers. Similarly, producers struggle to attract large corporate trading partners who have no interest in paying the extra cost of sourcing materials equitably. NGOs like Maya Traditions, which helps Guatemalan artisans sell their products on the international marketplace, aim to make entrepreneurship accessible to small producers in developing countries.

The Verdict

The efficacy of fair trade systems is the subject of a great deal of criticism. While fair trade products like coffee, tea, and cotton are worth investing in, the benefits are imperfect and not accessible to all producers or consumers. Some activists advocate for a ‘direct trade’ system, in which consumers can buy goods directly from growers while paying growers sums closer to retail prices. However, the direct trade model comes with its own set of challenges and infrastructural changes. Nonetheless, establishing a system that allows producers to reach more advanced development from trading their crops is challenging but is certainly worth investing in.

Stefanie Grodman
Photo: Flickr

jewelry rebuilds economy in cambodiaCambodian artisans are turning the same brass once used to murder into a symbol of peace and resilience, a stand against the violence that once overtook their country. Artisanry and design have deep roots in Cambodian history. However, the Khmer Rouge destroyed centuries of creative artifacts and left Cambodia’s economy in shambles. Cambodia is now littered with bombshell casings from the Khmer Rouge-led Cambodian genocide, the Vietnam War and a bombing ordered by former U.S. president Richard Nixon. But jewelers are reclaiming their nation through craft, turning these casings into beautiful pieces of jewelry as a stand against the violence that overtook their country. Their jewelry rebuilds the economy in Cambodia and reduces poverty along with it.

What Was the Cambodian Genocide?

April 17, 1975 marks the dark day that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge began destroying the Cambodian people. Pot’s goal was to rebuild Cambodia in the image of Mao’s communist model in China. However, this led to the murder of an estimated two to three million people in the historic Killing Fields. Between the murders and thousands of starvation deaths, 25% of the Cambodian population died in three years.

This loss devastated the country’s creativity culture, leaving a mere 10% of artists alive. The Khmer Rouge also banned all creative art forms that did not politically benefit them. In addition, the regime destroyed all of Cambodia’s cultural traditions. In order to rebuild the country, its people have looked to the arts.

Rajana Association of Cambodia: Jewelry Rebuilds the Economy in Cambodia

Local jewelers collect pieces of mines, bombs and bullets and upcycle them into beautifully cut brass rings, necklaces and bracelets. They also work with a Cambodian organization that trains people how to properly remove old landmines so that the jewelers can use the material. Rajana jewelers pride themselves on preserving Cambodian style and culture by staying away from Western designs. This not only demonstrates the artisans’ pride in their country’s culture but also their attempt to replenish the art destroyed by the Khmer Rouge.

The Rajana Association of Cambodia began in 1995 as a project under a UK-based NGO, Cambodia Action, which employed young Cambodian refugees at a camp in Thailand. It became its own independent company in 2003 and has since grown into a prominent and successful organization in Cambodia and worldwide. As such, its jewelry rebuilds the economy in Cambodia while preserving its culture.

By successfully expanding their company, the leaders of Rajana have also transformed the lives of their jeweler partners. With an outlet to work from home, the artisans make a living wage while caring for their families. Rajana also established several shops across the country solely run by Cambodian staff in order to sell the products. This income has helped send children to school, provide food for their families and purchase transportation.

Artisans Help Economies Grow

Artisan work has played a crucial role in opening the economy in post-conflict Cambodia to the global market. This rise in jewelry work has not only helped revive Cambodian tradition but also promoted commerce, trade and employment. Cambodia’s GDP has grown to $27 billion in 2019 from $588 million just before in the genocide in 1974. Jewelry manufacturing has contributed $4.8 million to the country’s GDP and employed over 3,500 people, making it a leading factor in the economy’s sustainable development. What began as a way to revive cultural traditions after the genocide has proven to be a driving component in changing the course of Cambodia’s history: the country’s poverty rate has continued to fall as employment rates rise, and is now at about 13% as of 2014 compared to almost 50% in 2007. Thus, jewelry both rebuilds the economy in Cambodia and reduces the poverty its citizens face.

Beautiful Jewelry Reduces Poverty

Several fair trade shops sell Rajana products online, including Ten Thousand Villages and Oxfam. These shops pay their artisans fair prices for their products, thus helping them establish better lives for themselves and their families. It is incredibly important to support international artisans. This fair trade keeps not only their economies alive but also their culture and history. In all, this jewelry rebuilds the economy in Cambodia through cultural preservation, resilience and creativity.

– Stephanie Russo
Photo: Flickr

Labor Exploitation in Coffee
Around 500 billion cups of coffee are consumed around the world in a typical year, an equivalent of 2.25 billion cups per day. The global coffee market was worth $83 billion USD in 2017 and was projected to rise steadily. Despite coffee’s popularity in modern life, few coffee drinkers realize the human cost to their caffeine fix. From inhumane working conditions to child labor and human trafficking, labor exploitation in coffee production is a bitter reality unbeknownst to consumers.

Global Trouble

The majority of coffee consumption happens in industrialized nations, with the United States, Germany and France as the largest importers. Conversely, more than 90% of coffee exports come from developing countries such as Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia and Mexico. Evidence suggests the presence of child labor and/or labor exploitation in coffee production in all of the above countries, in addition to many others like Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic and Uganda, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Labor.

From beans to brewing, coffee production is a multipart process that involves many intermediary stages before the final products reach retail stores. This laborious process means that it is extremely difficult for coffee retailers to track the origins of their coffee and ensure ethical labor practices at the source. It also means that only a small fraction – often 7% to 10%, but sometimes as low as 1% to 3% – of the retail price reaches the hands of coffee farmers. Fluctuations in coffee prices often result in farmers not earning a living wage, which jeopardizes the survival and health of their families.

Farmers’ Reality

Growing coffee requires intensive manual work such as picking, sorting, pruning, weeding, spraying, fertilizing and transporting products. Plantation workers often toil under intense heat for up to 10 hours a day, and many face debt bondage and serious health risks due to exposure to dangerous agrochemicals. In Guatemala, coffee pickers often receive a daily quota of 45 kilograms just to earn the minimum wage: $3 a day. To meet this minimum demand, parents often pull their children out of school to work with them. This pattern of behavior jeopardizes children’s health and education in underdeveloped rural areas, where they already experience significant barriers and setbacks.

Forced labor is widely reported in coffee-growing regions in Guatemala and Côte d’Ivoire. Workers suffer physical violence as well as threats of loss of work, wages, or food if they fail to perform at a certain – often unreasonable – standard. Many work without a contract, timely payment, protective gear, or appropriate medical care. Migrants are especially vulnerable since many cannot afford to return home and have to rely on plantation work to survive.

Child Labor and Exploitation

About 20% of children in coffee-growing countries fall victim to labor exploitation in coffee cultivation. Facing demanding quotas, workers often bring their children to help in the field in order to earn a living wage. The U.S. Department of Labor reports an estimated 34,131 children laborers growing coffee in Vietnam, 12,526 of which are under the age of 15. The same report finds almost 5,000 children under 14 working on coffee plantations in Brazil, often without a contract or protective equipment. In Côte d’Ivoire, children are subject to human trafficking and forced labor. Children are forcibly transported to coffee plantations from nearby countries including Benin, Mali, Togo and Burkina Faso and recruited to work for little or no pay, often for three or four years until they could return home. Threats of violence and withheld payments prevent them from leaving the farms, and many suffer from denial of food and sick leave.

Many South American countries have launched extensive and effective social programs and policies to address child labor and labor exploitation in coffee farms. In 2018, Colombia made significant advancements in efforts to tackle child labor through its campaign Working is Not a Child’s Task, the National Policy on Childhood and Adolescence, and the Center for the Crime of Trafficking in Persons. The Brazilian government funded and participated in programs that target child labor, such as the #StopChildLabor (#ChegaDeTrabalhoInfantil) Campaign and the Living Together and Strengthening Links Program (Serviço de Convivência e Fortalecimento de Vínculo).

The Fair Trade Movement

In the past decade, labor exploitation in coffee cultivation has garnered attention worldwide. As a result, many socially aware businesses have committed to a fair trade approach that promotes better profits for farmers and more sustainability in farming practices. Among other objectives, the fair trade movement works to give farmers a higher price for their coffee under conditions that strictly prohibit the use of exploitative practices. Ethically certified coffee brands such as Equal Exchange and Cafedirect have risen in popularity as consumers become more aware of labor exploitation issues. Certification schemes such as Fairtrade International, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Certified bring value to socially conscious businesses and encourage trading practices that empower smallholder farmers.

– Alice Nguyen
Photo: Flickr

hair trade
Poverty comes in various forms: lack of education, malnutrition, preventable diseases, and, in some cases, loss of hair. Hair, like poverty, comes in different appearances: long, wavy, short, brown, curly, red, mid-length or white. Some people covet certain styles, particularly those whose hair cannot naturally conform to the latest trend. Therefore, alternatives such as natural or synthetic hair stand in as solutions. For years, India was the primary provider of natural hair to African American women in the United States. However, in recent years, Cambodia, a Southeast Asian country riddled with poverty, took the spotlight, sending hundreds of locks of hair to America, Europe, South Africa and Nigeria, with the American market accounting for 80% of sales in the hair trade industry. Eyes dote upon these pristine locks, which fall into consumers’ hands at a reasonable price, but the hair trade rarely comes at a fair price to the proprietor.

Injustice in the Industry

In Cambodia, women’s hair typically sells for $8 to $30, depending on the length of the lock. Companies then clean, sew and sell it for an average of an outstanding $500 in the United States. The hair that sells online and in American shops generally come from the heads of poor Khmer women. These women often experience coercion to sell their hair for an unfair price. These women are unaware of the value of their hair and do not know how to barter. In return, the women end up with split ends, bald spots, jagged edges and low self-esteem.

Poverty in Cambodia

Poverty forces unwanted decisions. It includes numerous losses, such as the loss of hair, which signifies beauty and strength. However, the blazing light of poverty is beginning to fade in Cambodia. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Cambodia had one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. In fact, over the course of the past 20 years, Cambodia has reduced its poverty level by half. Infant mortality rates have decreased and primary education enrollment has increased. Statistically speaking, Cambodia is on the rise.

NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) have played an instrumental role in the economic climb. One NGO, Open Arms, provides vocational training through various methods, including hairdressing and salon maintenance. Through Open Arms, women, who once had to sell their hair to make financial ends meet, now have the privilege of empowering other women through the simplicity of a haircut.

The shift in the country’s economy has shed light not only on Cambodia’s best but also on her worst, which includes the hair trade industry. With the injustice of the hair trade industry making the pages of prominent news outlets, such as NBC, there is potential for change. After all, awareness is the building block for action. While Cambodia is on an uphill climb, she still has a long way to go. However, she is moving in a positive direction, gaining prominence with each step she takes.

Chatham Rayne Kennedy
Photo: Pixabay

Fashion and Poverty
Fast fashion has been an ever-growing presence within first world countries since the 1990s. At first glance, consumers purchase cheap and trendy outfits for a fraction of the price of high-end brands. However, beneath the surface, impoverished workers in developing countries are toiling in dangerous sweatshops for minimal pay. These supply chains show a direct link between fast fashion and poverty.

Many fast fashion companies, such as Forever 21 and H&M, receive new clothing shipments every day, while Topshop features 400 styles per week. These brands are able to produce apparel at rapid speed because they do not interact with production, and instead outsource to supplier firms in developing countries. These firms then subcontract production to unregistered suppliers that operate under no government regulation. This means that brands are not legally obligated to ensure safe working conditions. This process takes advantage of the less fortunate. For this reason, more people should be aware of the processes behind their fast fashion finds.

Unethical Production Practices

Due to the fact that many sweatshops reside in countries with inadequate labor laws and little government oversight, working conditions are dangerous and dehumanizing. These sweatshops prey on the poorest people who do not have the luxury to turn down any form of work. In many manufacturing countries such as China, India and Bangladesh, the minimum wage only ranges from a half to a fifth of the living wage required for a family to meet its basic needs. Furthermore, the average worker in an Indian sweatshop makes just 58 cents an hour, and in Bangladesh this drops to 33, linking fast fashion to the cycle of poverty.

Dangerous Working Conditions

Along with the miserable pay, working conditions in sweatshops are often incredibly dangerous. Garment workers have to work 14-16 hours a day, seven days a week while facing verbal and physical abuse from overseers. Employees often work with no ventilation while breathing in toxic substances. Accidents and injuries are also common; the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh provides a grisly example. The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory caused over 1,000 garment workers to die on the job.

Child Exploitation

While these companies prey on the poor, they especially prey upon children in poverty. A report investigating mills in India found that 60% of the workers were under 18 when they began working. Trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty, these children are extremely susceptible to forced labor in sweatshops. These unethical labor practices demonstrate how fast fashion and poverty are intermingled.

Apparel Companies Working for Change

Fast fashion companies that use unethical production are among some of the most prominent leaders in the industry, including Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, H&M, Zara and more. However, in response to these widespread atrocities, many apparel brands have made a conscious effort to utilize ethical production practices.

One of the most well known Fairtrade certified brands is Patagonia, a company that offers more Fair Trade Certified styles than any other apparel brand. In response to prominent injustices, the company has built a social responsibility program to analyze their impact on workers and communities. In addition, since Patagonia does not own any factories, it is partnering with production companies across the globe to ensure ethical practices. The company strives to be a positive force that “not only minimizes harm but also creates a positive benefit for the lives they touch through their business.”

Know the Origin is another Fairtrade brand that works to be transparent about their production practices. This brand goes above and beyond paying minimum wages and ensuring safe working conditions. Know the Origin is working to create sustainable employment opportunities that help lift communities out of poverty. Able is another Fairtrade brand that centers on ending generational poverty. As over 75% of apparel workers are women, Able focuses on lifting women out of poverty through stable working positions. While these are some of the most prominent Fairtrade companies, there are many more that any consumer can discover with a few quick minutes of research.

Why You Should Vote With Your Dollar

These Fairtrade brands are paving the way for a new type of ethical apparel production. The apparel industry has the ability to provide dignified jobs for impoverished communities rather than forcing them further into poverty. While increased prices make many Fairtrade products inaccessible to those in poverty, a significant number of people who buy fast fashion have the means to buy Fairtrade. In the end, change must occur at the hands of fast fashion companies to make a permanent difference. However, consumers can still make an impact by pushing them to make this change. When consumers choose to buy Fairtrade, they show their demand for ethically-made apparel.

As a consumer, you can act for change. In buying Fairtrade, you refuse to funnel your money into an industry that abuses and torments impoverished communities. You communicate that you are against the sweatshops that force workers to endlessly toil for minimal pay. You show that you care about the world’s poor.

Natascha Holenstein
Photo: Flickr

Dunkin' Donuts Fights Global PovertyDie-hard Dunkin’ Donuts fans might love the company for its coffee and assortment of breakfast treats, but this New England favorite is proving there is even more to love with some of its philanthropic choices regarding its products. From making ethical decisions when it comes to sourcing its espresso beans to switching to sustainable alternatives for its cups, Dunkin’ is combating global poverty and benefiting the world at large. Here is more information about how Dunkin’ Donuts fights global poverty.

Dunkin’ Donuts Fights Global Poverty with Fair Trade Espresso

Dunkin’ Donuts was the first national coffee company to offer fair trade certified espresso beverages in 2004. This supports the economic and environmental well being of coffee-farming communities around the world. Fair trade certification ensures that coffee farmers are paid livable wages in an industry that often exploits its workers. Many coffee farmers face extreme poverty, job insecurity, unregulated working conditions and labor rights abuses, just to name some hardships.

Dunkin’ Donuts is combating global poverty by choosing to use fair trade espresso beans, which is making a difference in the lives of many families around the world. Andrés Bermeo Calderon, a father, husband and member of a Fair Trade Certified™ coffee cooperative in Chirinos, Peru spoke about how being a fair trade member has changed his life. “For me, the most important part of being a cooperative member is that now I can provide a better life for my family,” he said. He spoke of the hardships he faced before being a member. “Before, our sales were really bad and we had no control over the price. Sometimes we received only enough for the day to buy food and nothing else. Now, we have a better economy and we are able to ask for loans,” he said.

Making Sustainable Changes

Dunkin’ Donuts made the complete switch from polystyrene foam cups to a double-walled paper cup alternative in 2019. While this might seem like a small change, this switch is expected to eliminate “approximately one billion foam cups annually from the waste stream.”

Polystyrene is not only a known hazardous substance and pollutant that can potentially contaminate food or drink contained in it but it also poses an extreme threat to poverty-stricken communities around the world due to the harmful chemicals it produces as it breaks down in landfills. According to the EPA, styrene—what’s left when foam cups break down—leaches from landfills into drinking water. It also creates a huge problem with pollution in the oceans.

It can cause liver, kidney or circulatory system problems. This threatens those living in extreme poverty disproportionately because they are most likely to live near landfills and factories that produce polystyrene cups. Dunkin’ Donuts’ decision to eliminate these foam cups will greatly reduce styrene contamination in impoverished nations. This is just another way Dunkin’ Donuts fights global poverty.

Proving to be more than just a widely successful coffee company with a great cup of coffee, Dunkin’ Donuts is fighting global poverty by making ethical and sustainable changes concerning its products. International companies have the ability to make decisions that have far-reaching impacts. Dunkin’ Donuts is showing that it is using that power for positive change that will have a lasting impact.

– Hannah White
Photo: Wikimedia Commons