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

Women-led CompaniesWhen women work, they help engage and encourage more women to get into the workforce and thus drive the cycle of helping to lift women and their communities out of poverty. A 2016 McKinsey report estimated that advancing global gender parity in economic activity by 2025 could add up to $28 trillion to the global GDP per year.

In addition to reducing poverty, a United Nations study found that businesses with a higher proportion of women executives and directors saw an increase in profits and returns on invested capital. Not only do women in business help reduce global poverty and increase the global market, but many of their companies provide services directed at those in poverty. Here are six women-led companies that give back to the poor.

6 Women-Led Companies that Help Poor Communities

  1. 10Power: CEO Sandra Kwak founded 10Power in 2016 hoping to bring power to communities without access to the electric grid. Kwak and her company work with local partners in Haiti to make renewable energy affordable and accessible for places that need it most. Only a third of the island has access to the electric grid, but 10Power hopes to change that. By teaching local installers and engineers about solar power and panel installation, 10Power give more people access to clean, renewable power.
  2. CloQ: In 2016, co-founder Rafaela Cavalcanti helped launch the app CloQ, with the mission to provide access to cheaper and easy-to-use formal nano-credit to the lower-income and unbanked population in Brazil and to include them in the formal credit system. Since CloQ caters to a poorer population who may not necessarily have financial data, their credit model is based on client evaluation, behavioral and reliability, rather than solely on financial records. The app focuses on providing micro-loans, usually around $25. As the connection and relationship between the user and CloQ grows, loans up to $150 can be awarded. As 33 percent of the Brazilian population does not use or have a bank account, this app is a great solution for taking out small loans and preventing people from falling victim to loan sharks.
  3. Laboratoria: Co-founder and CEO Mariana Costa Checa began Laboratoria in 2014 in Peru. Laboratoria’s main initiative is to provide low-income and poor women with access to education with free web-development and coding instruction. The 6 month-long boot camp focuses on front-end development and UX design. Students also learn a variety of coding languages including JavaScript, HTML and CSS. The company also helps place their graduates into jobs by hosting hackathons to connect companies with students. More than 1,000 women have successfully completed Laboratoria’s program and more than 80 percent of those women went on to work in the technology industry. With over 450,000 unfilled tech jobs expected to arise in Latin America, Checa hopes her company will give low-income women the skills and opportunities to fill those jobs.
  4. Unima: Co-founder Laura Mendoza helped start Unima in Mexico in order to provide cheap, efficient diagnostic testing to poor and remote communities. The organization developed a fast and low-cost diagnostic and disease surveillance technology, particularly targeting tuberculosis (a highly contagious disease prevalent in poor communities). Patients put a drop of blood on a specially-designed paper. The result of the chemical reaction on the paper is evaluated by a smartphone app. The whole process takes about 15 minutes and each paper costs around $1. Due to its simple design, Unima’s technology does not require a lab to evaluate blood samples, so the diagnostic testing is easily transportable to remote communities. The Unima also stores all results from the smartphone app in a cloud server for real-time data surveillance. While large-scale testing of the technology began in Mexico, Unima hopes to expand its reach to remote and low-income communities in Africa as well.
  5. Vunilagi Book Club: Started in 2017, founder Adi Mariana Waqa’s book club provides books and a passion for reading to kids in Fiji. She and her volunteers encourage kids to read and ask questions. By inspiring a love of learning in youths, the book club’s mission is to help kids avoid the generational cycles of poverty by tackling illiteracy and encouraging them to pursue education and employment. Vunilagi has donated over a thousand books to six different rural villages and is run by around 30 volunteers.
  6. Wazi Vision: Founded in 2016 by Brenda Katwesigye, Wazi Vision provides affordable eye care. In Uganda, home of Wazi Vision, 1.2 million people are visually impaired, but eye care (testing and corrective lenses) is very expensive. Wazi Vision designs and provides eyeglasses at 80 percent of the cost of other glasses on the market. Wazi Vision also trains and employs women to design glasses, perform eye tests and manage delivery logistics. In order to provide low-cost eye care, Wazi Vision, supported by the United States Africa Development Foundation (USADF) and Greentec Capital Partners, developed an eye testing software that uses Virtual Reality. The technology does not require an optometrist, helping Wazi Vision reach more remote communities that may lack an optical center. Since its inception, Wazi Vision has tested over 5,000 children in schools across Uganda, donates glasses to children who cannot afford even their cheaper version, and continues to donate 10 percent of every pair of glasses bought toward the purchase of a pair of glasses for a child in need.

These six women-led companies are helping those in poverty, as well as providing inspiration and empowerment for other women looking to own and run businesses. These companies not only benefit the women who have helped establish them but countless others in need.

– Maya Watanabe
Photo: Flickr

The International Women's Coffee Alliance
The International Women’s Coffee Alliance aims to empower women to achieve sustainable, meaningful lives through international coffee communities. IWCA recognizes the integral part women play in both a business and an economic aspect. As such, IWCA believes women need to be involved in both family sustainability and economic choices. When this happens, multiple aspects typically leading to poverty in a community decrease.

“When women are fully involved, the benefits can be seen immediately: families are healthier; they are better fed; their income, savings and reinvestment go up. And what is true of families is true of communities and, eventually, whole countries,” states Kofi Annan, as quoted on IWCA’s homepage.

Strong Women = Strong Coffee

IWCA’s motto is “Strong Women = Strong Coffee: Connect. Empower. Advance.”

According to IWCA chapter manager Blanca Castro, “The chapters have very localized issues that they centralize their work around to be a collective force. The common denominator for the groups is that they are all mothers, daughters and workers and share many of the same challenges around the world, not just specific to coffee, such as the price of coffee but the also laws and customs that make women earning a dignified living that much more of a challenge.”

Now how is the IWCA taking action to implement and empower women?

IWCA Ethiopia

Strong Partners Build Economic Empowerment

IWCA is involved in multiple parts of the world, including Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Women in Coffee (EWiC) partnered with the International Trade Center, which brings platforms for corporations to empower companies to connect with women-owned supply companies. As a result, the EWiC and ITC are working together to build a foundation for the same goal.

The EWiC is one branch under IWCA. It moves to improve the economy and the importance of women within a community. Through the incorporation of women in international trade, IWCA believes that poverty within Ethiopia will soon be alleviated.

IWCA Burundi

Working Together Grows Quality and Premiums

The IWCA also has a chapter in Burundi, specifically in the regions of Ngozi and Kayanza where they have seen a growing impact of empowering the women of this region. Since their start in Burundi in 2012, there has been an increase in job opportunities for the community. Moreover, this has led to improved livelihoods based on coffee bonuses and pay raises.

In Burundi alone, there has been an increase in green coffee bags. In 2012, 94 green coffee bags were produced, as compared to 2,065 green coffee bags in 2017.

WCA-India

Building Awareness, Strengthening Communities

Coffee Santhe (Coffee Market) is held annually in India’s coffee capital, Bangalore. Santhe is a program that helps raise funds for communities. It also unites different states within India’s massive demographic to come together and learn how they can impact and improve their communities.

Santhe generates funds and provisions for children who are in government-run schools in coffee regions. These funds and provisions support their education. It also teaches them how they can impact their own lives and those around them.

The IWCA has a presence in 22 different countries. And it promotes economic sustainability by empowering women to enter the workforce of international trade, specifically through the coffee industry. Ultimately, the International Women’s Coffee Alliance believes by uniting different nations and closing the gender gap in the workforce, the issues of global poverty will disperse.

Hannah Vaughn
Photo: Google Images

How the U.S. Benefits from the Summer Work and Travel Program
When universities go on break for the summer, college students from the United States usually go on vacations, travel or rest. Many students from the rest of the world travel as well, but they have other various options. For example, the students can come to the United States on visas that allow them to work in the country for three to four months during their break from university.

Summer Work and Travel Program

The program that allows students to come and work in the U.S is called the Summer Work and Travel Program. This program is under the broader J-1 visa category. Initially introduced as a cultural exchange program, it started in 1961 with the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act. The J-1 type visa exchange is meant to encourage the “the interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills, in the fields of education, arts and science.” Over the last 10 years, over 310,000 individuals from 200 countries have visited the U.S. through the program.

What the Program Means for Participants

The students who choose to participate in the program are really serious about it. It requires a good deal of dedication to the process, some serious preparation and a considerable investment of funds to be able to apply for a visa. The requirements that participants need to meet include English language proficiency, full-time enrollment in a post-secondary educational institution and a secured job offer prior to traveling.

Toni Kovachev is a student from Bulgaria who has been to the United States three times as a J-1 participant. “Working in the states can be described as exhausting but having a lot of fun at the same time,” Kovachev shares with The Borgen Project. The decision to participate in the program came with his choice of a higher education institution.

Kovachev needed to find the means to be able to attend the American University in Bulgaria, a private liberal arts college, and the Summer Work and Travel Program made that possible. During his time in the U.S., he has been able to earn enough money for his tuition and improve his English language skills. Kovachev says, “It was a choice that changed my life and I am so glad that it happened that I went three summers already.”

The Summer Work and Travel program is an opportunity for international students to share their culture with different people and experience U.S. society and culture. These exchange of ideas, stories and ways of life are enriching for both sides. Being exposed to people from different backgrounds generates respect, understanding and tolerance towards others.

How the U.S. Benefits From Summer Work an Travel Program

Over the last two years, the program has been under scrutiny and criticism. The disapproval comes from the fear that visitors take job opportunities away from American youth. But these criticisms are misguided. J-1 students supplement the local economy during seasonal peak times or when American workers are not available. They help businesses to be more productive by being able to offer more and better services.

The students who obtain their visas to work in the U.S. for the summer usually occupy seasonal jobs in the hospitality sector. The majority of them are concentrated in the Southeast of the U.S. with Massachusetts and New York hosting the most J-1 students. Martha’s Vineyard, Provincetown and Nantucket experience an influx of visitors and tourists over the summer. Without international students cleaning hotel rooms, busing tables in restaurants and restocking supermarkets, businesses in those places would not be able to keep it up.

The program is beneficial for both the countries of origin of the J-1 students as well as the United States. A report commissioned by the Alliance for International Exchange shows that the majority of participants come to the U.S. to experience and learn about the way of life that then results in their positive opinion regarding the United States.

Almost all students reported that they believe they have obtained skills that would help them in the future. To add to that, 92.1 percent of employers agreed that the Summer Work and Travel Program participants improved the workplace. The estimated contribution of J-1 students to the economy in 2016 was around $509 million.

– Aleksandra Sirakova
Photo: Flickr

 Bangladesh
In April 2013, Rana Plaza — an eight-story factory building in Bangladesh — collapsed, killing 1,130 people. The structure housed a number of North American and European brands, including Benetton, Bon Marche, The Children’s Place and Joe Fresh. Bangladesh has the second largest garment industry in the world, valued at $28 billion and ranked just behind China, although it has the lowest wages globally for garment workers.

The disaster, considered to be one of the worst industrial tragedies in history, has led to a call for increased accountability and transparency in the clothing industry. While agreements such as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh have been put in place in the aftermath of the accident, there are still steps the garment industry can take to repair its broken system.

Companies such as H&M, Walmart and Gap have voiced their interest in improving conditions, yet progress has been a slow and difficult process.

The Building

The Rana Plaza building, based in the Dhaka District, was owned by Sohel Rana, who constructed the factory in 2006 with his father. It was created from poor quality construction materials, while heavy, vibrating machinery operated within its walls. The ground that the building had been set upon had previously been a body of water and was swampy, containing rubbish.

When Rana was developing the structure, the upper floors were added illegally, without a permit, and the creation was not made in consent. Inspection teams found cracks in the building on the Tuesday before, but workers were ordered to return to the unsafe environment the following day. That morning, the factory collapsed, with over 3,000 people inside.

The Aftermath

In the aftermath of the incident, workers protested and coalitions came together to promote rights within the garment industry and take measures towards preventing a future crisis like Rana Plaza. On May 15, 2013, brands, retailers and trade unions — such as Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle Outfitters and Fruit of the Loom — signed a five-year, legally binding agreement to create safer conditions in the Bangladesh Ready Made Garment industry, drafting the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

The Accord includes an inspection program, as well as the establishment of the right of workers to refuse unsafe work. Funds will be made available to repair any damaged equipment, and all corrective action plans and inspection reports will be publically disclosed.

Most recently, new signatories have continued to show solidarity for the Transition Accord, which extends the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh until after 2018.

Organizations, Brands and Change

In addition, a nine-member coalition including Human Rights Watch and the International Labor Rights Forum created the Apparel and Footwear Supply Chain Transparency Pledge, which demands that companies report on manufacturing sites and pertinent details twice a year.

The Follow the Thread Campaign, a coalition consisting of organizations such as Clean Clothes Campaign and Human Rights Watch, asked retail companies to sign a Transparency Pledge in April 2017.

Brands such as H&M, Walmart and Gap affirmed that they would like to participate in improving worker safety in Bangladesh. While Walmart did not sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, the company was one of the founding members of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a group of 28 retailers that holds standards and inspections, as well as supporting worker empowerment, among other practices.

Commitment to Transparency

Yet these initiatives have not been enough. Reports by the coalition the Asia Floor Wage Alliance show that many garment buildings in Bangladesh do not have adequate fire exits. According to 2015 research from New York University’s Stern School of Business, out of 3,425 inspections in Bangladesh that were held after the collapse, only eight addressed their violations fully enough to pass final inspections.

A commitment to transparency still remains a vital aspect of progress needed in the garment industry. Workers frequently experience abuse, while earning low wages, with Bangladesh’s minimum wage being 32 cents per hour.

Facing the powerful impact of the Rana Plaza tragedy of 2013, corporations and unions have come together to try to address the dangerous conditions found in Bangladesh’s garment industry (which is one of the world’s biggest). But for factories to move forward, businesses and human rights organizations will have to confront the negligence found within the system and recognize that fashion is not worth such a costly price.

We, as a globe, will need to see increased accountability and responsibility in the manufacturing places of clothing companies to learn from Rana Plaza and see workers’ conditions sustainably improve.

– Shira Laucharoen

Photo: Flickr

Opportunity International: Fighting Poverty Through Job Creation
The nonprofit organization Opportunity International is fighting poverty through job creation. Its goal is to create and sustain 20 million jobs by the year 2020 in an effort to end global poverty.

Founded in 1971 by Al Whittaker and David Bussau, Opportunity International helps people in developing countries work their way out of poverty by providing them with small business loans, savings accounts, insurance and training. The organization was one of the first nonprofits to identify benefits in offering financial services to people in developing countries living in poverty. They have clients in 24 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

Opportunity International goes by the motto “Opportunity Changes Everything.” They suggest that the traditional method of fighting poverty can lead to a vicious cycle. Donations of food, money and other basic needs improve lives, but only temporarily. Once the donation is used up, people’s needs return and the cycle starts again. The organization proposes that providing people with access to small business loans, savings accounts, insurance and training can change their lives for good.

Ninety-five percent of Opportunity’s loans go to women because, they say, women are poor in disproportionately greater numbers than men. To be eligible for a loan, a person joins a trust group and undergoes four to eight weeks of training to learn how to create a business plan, how to budget and how to save money. The trust group members take a pledge to guarantee each other’s loans and support one another’s businesses. This means that if one member of the group misses a weekly payment, the rest of the group has to cover it. This approach has led to 98 percent of loans being repaid and has proven to be an effective grassroots approach to tackling poverty.

According to the organization, the method that they use leads to a cycle that is different from the traditional method of fighting poverty. A woman grows a business, which increases her income. She is then able to feed her family nutritious meals, improve their housing, put money away in a savings account and purchase insurance from Opportunity to reduce her family’s risk. At the same time, she is able to hire her neighbors, giving them a chance to provide for their families. This system also transforms the community, hence their motto “Opportunity Changes Everything.”

Opportunity International’s strategy of fighting poverty through job creation has made an impact. The total amount of loans given is $838 million, they have 4.9 million clients with savings accounts and have supported 16.7 million jobs.

Kristin Westad

Photo: Flickr