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Ethical food consumption
Many food industries exploit workers and degrade the environment to produce cheap, low-quality food. Ethical food consumption reduces poverty by limiting support for food companies that do not prioritize human rights or environmental sustainability. With the proper knowledge and motivation, people can adopt a wide range of healthy, affordable, ethical and sustainable food practices.

7 Ethical Food Consumption Practices

  1. Try a plant-based diet. In an interview with The Borgen Project, David Julian McClements, a food scientist and professor of food science at the University of Massachusetts, said that plant-based diets can reduce pollution and biodiversity loss, as well as land and water use. Environmental disasters and degradation often hurt impoverished communities because local governments lack the funds and resources to bounce back. Plant-based diets can help impoverished communities by reducing environmental degradationwhich can be complex and costly to address. Plant-based diets can also combat food shortages, water shortages and water contamination. The meat and dairy industries deplete large amounts of water to hydrate animals and clean up waste, contaminating water supplies worldwide. Water contamination can be fatal to impoverished communities lacking proper health care and technology to ensure a clean water supply. Pursuing a plant-based diet reduces support for particular meat and dairy companies that degrade the environment at the cost of human health, especially in impoverished communities.
  2. Shop locally. Buying food from local businesses and farmers’ markets has several social and ecological benefits. When well-managed, small local farms preserve soil health, nearby water sources and plant biodiversity. Small farmers often plant a wide variety of crops compared to large monoculture farms that only grow one or a few crop varieties and ship their produce to grocery stores situated thousands of miles away. Shipping and driving food long distances reduce the freshness and taste of food and contribute to global warming. Local food can also be healthier than imported food because farm-to-table food loses fewer nutrients in the transportation process. Imported food may sit in warehouses, trucks or planes for long periods, during which the food can lose nutrients. Additionally, local, ethical food consumption reduces poverty by supporting small businesses and boosting local economies.
  3. Shop organically. Organic farming involves growing food without using synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Organic farms can reduce pollution, improve water and soil quality, increase biodiversity and limit human and environmental contact with toxic substances. Therefore, consumers help preserve their local environment and human health by purchasing organic food products. Organic farming can be especially beneficial to impoverished communities because of its environmental benefits. Organic farms improve public health and soil fertility, which benefits people, the environment and the economy. Due to socioeconomic and ecological benefits, one can view purchasing organic products as a form of ethical food consumption, which in turn, reduces poverty.
  4. Shop from businesses that pay workers ethical wages. When at the grocery store, taking a minute to glance at the label on a food product before buying it can make a significant difference in ethical food consumption over time. Identifying labels like Fair Trade can help support programs and businesses that pay workers fair wages and ensure safe work conditions. Supporting local food businesses and farms is another way to reduce support for large, corporate brands that exploit workers and degrade the environment. For example, buying products from local farmers’ markets supports small farms that prioritize ethical wages and sustainability more than large corporations. However, in places where farmers’ markets are unavailable, simply reading and researching the labels on food at the grocery store can help support fair wages and environmental sustainability.
  5. Grow a garden. Even if it is just a few plants in a small garden, growing one’s food can be a great alternative to large-scale, exploitative agriculture. Home-grown, ethical food consumption reduces poverty by minimizing support for corporations that do not pay workers fair wages. Sourcing food from a garden can also improve health and benefit the environment. Gardeners know precisely where their food came from, how they grew it and what they used to grow it, leaving no ethical or health-related issues up for question. Maintaining a large garden may be unrealistic for people who have limited free time, but even planting something small, like an avocado plant, can make a difference in the outcome of one’s food consumption over time.
  6. Consume less single-use packaging. Reducing one’s consumption of single-use food packaging benefits both people and the environment. People can reduce the single-use packaging they consume by utilizing reusable bags, containers, straws and more. Zero-waste stores are emerging as more interest circulates zero-waste living. While a zero-waste lifestyle may seem impractical to the average person, any steps in the direction of zero-waste living can make a difference. Reducing one’s use of solid, single-use products factors ethical food consumption because single-use packaging is abundant in the food industry. Ethical food consumption reduces poverty by lessening support for exploitative brands and initiatives, including the plastic industry.
  7. Avoid wasting food. Much like plastic waste, food waste can be detrimental to the environment, especially for impoverished communities. According to the World Wildlife Fund, people could reduce up to 8% of human-made greenhouse gas emissions if they stopped wasting food. Meal planning, purchasing food mindfully, utilizing one’s freezer and making good use of leftovers are all simple ways the average person can reduce the amount of food waste she produces.

By adopting ethical, sustainable food practices in daily life, consumers can make a significant impact in reducing global poverty and food insecurity while conserving the environment.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Unsplash

Alternatives to Fast Fashion
The fast fashion industry creates inexpensive clothing to keep up with rapidly changing trends. Many brands in the fast fashion industry use cheap labor to produce garments, which often leads to the exploitation of workers and the environment. Fast fashion companies tend to target workers in low-income areas who have limited alternatives for employment. As a result, people in low-income areas are more likely to tolerate the poor, exploitative labor conditions that are prevalent in fast fashion. Microfibers and waste are often byproducts of fast fashion, contributing to water pollution and food chain disruptions, which disproportionately affect impoverished areas. Several alternatives to fast fashion can make consumers’ wardrobes more ethical and sustainable, reducing global poverty at the same time.

5 Alternatives to Fast Fashion

  1. Support local thrift stores. Thrift shopping is a simple and affordable alternative to fast fashion. Thrift shops offer clothes at more affordable prices than fast fashion companies without causing harm to workers or the environment. Individuals can also help second-hand stores thrive by donating clothes. Donating to thrift shops provides a wider range of options for consumers who cannot afford ethical, sustainable fashion elsewhere. Thrift shopping can be a great alternative for people who do not wish to promote poor working conditions in the fashion industry.
  2. Buy, sell and trade clothes online. Internet users can buy, sell and exchange clothes on a plethora of apps and websites. For example, Etsy offers a range of ethical, sustainable, second-hand and handmade clothing at varying prices. Individuals can also use social media platforms like Facebook Marketplace and Instagram to buy, sell and trade used clothing instead of supporting fast fashion brands that exacerbate poverty. Some apps like Depop are specifically designed for people to buy and sell second-hand clothes online, without the hassle of visiting a thrift store in person.
  3. Buy clothes from ethical and sustainable brands. Consumers can still purchase brand new clothes without supporting the fast fashion industry. Clothing companies like Patagonia, Boden and Kotn offer alternatives to fast fashion for people with flexible budgets. For example, through Fair Trade certification, Patagonia supports workers in low-income areas, ensuring that workers receive fair compensation under good working conditions. Patagonia also uses renewable energy for clothing production. Boden uses recyclable packaging, ensures ethical production and pays workers fair wages. Kotn creates clothes with organic materials and maintains fair and safe labor standards. Thousands of ethical, sustainable clothing companies are available to those who can afford them.
  4. Buy timeless, good-quality clothing. People who buy fast fashion may get stuck in a fast fashion cycle. Consumers often purchase cheap, low-quality items from fast fashion companies to keep up with ever-changing trends. As a result, consumers can contribute heavily to poverty and the exploitation of workers. However, clothes from fast fashion companies often wear out and do not remain in style. Individuals who have the financial means can buy high-quality, timeless clothing as alternatives to fast fashion items that only last until the next season.
  5. Learn how to make and repair clothes. Making and repairing clothes can be an affordable, sustainable and ethical alternative to buying from fast fashion brands that intensify global poverty. People who make clothes can select their own materials, keeping an eye out for ethical and sustainable fabric brands. Those who learn to sew can also repair their old clothes instead of buying new ones from fast fashion companies. Between sewing, crocheting and other methods of creating clothes, people can create personalized, unique clothes to wear with the potential of launching their own ethically-sourced businesses.

Reducing Poverty Through Ethical Shopping

Shopping ethically contributes to combating global poverty and environmental degradation. Many fast fashion alternatives exist to help consumers stand up against workplace exploitation in low-income areas. Over time, ethical clothing purchases can make monumental impacts on the lives of people around the world.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Unsplash

SOPPEXCCA coffee cooperativeCoffee production in Nicaragua is a steadily maturing industry. The coffee industry in Nicaragua accounts for more than $500 million a year in exports and is responsible for more than 200,000 jobs. Roughly 40,000 coffee farmers and their families rely on the coffee industry as their primary income and support. But, despite contributing the lion’s share, small-scale producers are often left behind with paltry benefits. The Society of Small Producers for Coffee Exports (SOPPEXCCA) engages this issue by supporting farming families in Nicaragua. The SOPPEXCCA coffee cooperative was founded in Nicaragua in 1997 with the intention of improving the lives of its members and communities in the Nicaraguan coffee industry.

Coffee in Nicaragua

The rise of specialty coffee is promising for Nicaragua. Nicaraguan beans are distinctly known for their mild and citrus-like taste and are consequently gaining traction in the global market. Roughly 60% of the nation’s coffee output comes from northern regions like Jinotega where SOPPEXCCA was founded.

Most coffee growers face economic challenges beyond living a humble farming life. The crops require a decent amount of maintenance and are prone to environmental risks. A leaf disease called “la roya” puts 30-40% of coffee plants at risk of destruction and hurricanes destroyed 10-15% of the coffee harvest in 2020. Additionally, many children often have to dedicate school time to the farms due to the sheer amount of work involved in producing coffee.

The SOPPEXCCA Coffee Cooperative

SOPPEXCCA empowers farming communities with long-term solutions that stimulate financial literacy, strategy and growth. By building educational institutions, promoting gender equality, utilizing sustainable solutions and communicating with farmers, the cooperative helps give farmers life skills to improve their economic standing. The cooperative works in accordance with the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, which include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. Farmers and communities who join SOPPEXCCA are also protected by a number of international securities. This includes Fair Trade certification and Food4Farmers benefits. These efforts are part of SOPPEXCCA’s anti-poverty agenda.

Muchachitos del Cafe

SOPPEXCCA’s youth movement, Children of Coffee, reaches out to younger generations through education. By providing classes, scholarships and building schools, SOPPEXCCA looks to fund programs that help kids who come from farming backgrounds.

Women’s Empowerment

The SOPPEXCCA coffee cooperative is led by Fatima Ismael and boasts a female membership rate of 40%. Ismael took over leadership in 1997 and pointed the cooperative toward a robust plan on a women-centric approach. Participating coffee businesses and entrepreneurs have supported initiatives for improving public health by investing in cervical cancer prevention programs.

The cooperative has also launched a number of movements to support women in the field of coffee agronomics. The coffee-growing industry is generally typified as masculine. But, cooperatives such as La Fondacion entre Mujeres and Las Diosas, within SOPPEXCCA, seek to empower women in roles typically reserved for males. SOPPEXCCA also supports female coffee producers by giving them the tools and knowledge needed to succeed in the industry, such as marketing and management skills.

Empowering Farmers

SOPPEXCCA also equips farmers with the entrepreneurial skills required to participate in the fast-paced global coffee market. In response to la roya, it partnered with a number of crop diversification outlets to help farmers grow safer and more resilient plants such as cacao. The cooperative has started a chocolate factory to help create jobs and support farmers. SOPPEXCCA also connects small-scale coffee producers with large corporations such as Starbucks, allowing them to apply for loans that can jumpstart their business careers.

The Rise of Craft Coffee

Caffeinated beverages are on the rise within the global market and Nicaraguan coffee will likely be one contender among many pioneering trends. Since its establishment, SOPPEXCCA has significantly grown. It started with fewer than 70 men and women coffee producers and since expanded to 650 men and women producers, organized in 15 cooperatives in SOPPEXCCA. By supporting Nicaraguan coffee farmers, SOPPEXCCA supports poverty reduction in the country.

Danielle Han
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

Nespresso AAAPopular on every continent of the earth, coffee is one of the most traded agricultural commodities in the world. In 2017, more than two-thirds of the global coffee production was exported, creating 125 million jobs and an $83 billion retail market value. The market is also extremely vast. While the largest importing countries are the United States, Germany and France, most coffee beans grow in smallholder farms in developing countries across Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia, including 22 Low Human Development Countries, according to the U.N.’s Human Development Index. The Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality Program aims to help coffee farmers in developing countries.

Coffee Farming in Developing Countries

In many of these underdeveloped regions, coffee is a particularly important crop and a significant source of income for farmers to recover from natural disasters, economic volatility or political conflicts. However, many smallholder farmers find it difficult to tap into the global premium market due to their low productivity, outdated processing technics and lack of market access. More than 2.5 million African smallholder coffee farmers are still in extreme poverty today. In other words,  they live on less than $1 a day.

Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program

Seeing the difficulties that farmers face and the great potential for future development, Nespresso, a subsidiary of Nestlé, one of the most popular and successful coffee businesses of the 21st century, launched the AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program in 2003. AAA stands for the triple focus on high quality, productivity and social and environmental sustainability, aiming to encourage rural economic development and improve the livelihoods and well-being of coffee farmers while producing high-quality coffee. To enter the program, a farmer has to produce a specific aroma profile and meet the quality and sustainability requirements.

Technical Assistance and Business Support

Once accepted in the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program, farmers receive tools and learn sustainable coffee growing and processing practices from the agronomists that Nespresso sends directly to their communities. Nespresso also helps install small wet mills that allow for greater efficiency and quality control in coffee aggregating and processing. Thanks to the adoption of these new or improved practices, land productivity has increased 40-50% in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Besides, Nespresso trains the farmers for better farm economic management and business practices, easier access to new and differentiated markets and stronger resilience to climate change through climate-smart agricultural practices. Together, this ensures greater profitability and income stability. Farmers have the right to choose the buyers, although many just sell their coffee to Nespresso since it offers a fair price of around one third above the standard market price and up to 70% of the export price can go back to farmers and their local communities.

Wider Systemic Solutions

Beyond the coffee business, the ultimate goal of the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program is to improve farmers’ living conditions. After years of endeavor, the program is evolving into a broader rural development program that encompasses sustainable agriculture, financial literacy, municipalities and social welfares. For example, in 2014, Nespresso and Fairtrade International together launched the Farmer Future Program in Caldas, Colombia, to provide the first pension scheme for coffee farmers. This will also help with the generational transfer of farms from parents to children, ensuring opportunity for young people in coffee-producing regions.

As of 2020, Nespresso has committed an annual investment of CHF 40 million and 400 agronomists have been sent to help farmers. More than 110,000 farmers in 14 developing countries have been participating in the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program.

The program is a veritable triple-win collaboration between coffee farmers, Nespresso and the customers. Nespresso sources approximately 95% of its total coffee supply through the AAA program, which is not far from 100%, its ultimate vision for the end of 2020.

Jingyan Zhang
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

The protection of women’s’ rights and access to opportunities for economic empowerment are vital pieces to the reduction of extreme poverty. Indian women continue to face major challenges in gender equality as inferiority persists between men and women through familial relations and cultural norms. Emphasis on traditional gender roles such as taking care of the home, children, elders and religious obligations often leave women with little time to pursue educational opportunities. As a result, India has one of the lowest female literacy rates in Asia. With a lack of education, finding employment that provides a livable wage can seem hopeless, but organizations like Shakti.ism are creating new hope.

Economic Empowerment as a Solution – Shakti.ism

Shakti.ism, a female-led social enterprise, aims to dismantle these cultural norms through economic empowerment. The organization provides employment opportunities for women in India, many of whom are victims of domestic and gender-based violence. The women work to create unique hand-crafted accessories and develop and establish themselves as artisans. The social enterprise partners with NGOs throughout India to reach as women and girls as possible. Shakti.ism is also committed to abiding by and promoting the 10 Principles of Fair Trade and the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. Founded by Jitna Bhagani, a survivor of gender-based violence herself, she hopes to encourage self-sustainment, independence and entrepreneurship in efforts “to break the cycle of poverty.”

Bhagani recognizes that cultural norms continue to largely impede upon the achievements and rights of women living in India. In a featured post by the Harvest Fund, Bhagani shares the stories of some of the women that Shakti.ism has helped. Many of these women are victims of discrimination as a result of the caste system. Although outlawed in 1950, it still remains deeply culturally embedded today. She notes that a lack of education, sex trafficking, familial relations and religious and cultural beliefs are some of the most prevalent causes of poverty and gender-based violence in India.

Impact

In collaboration with several NGOs, Bhagani’s Shakti.ism aims to tackle these issues by providing women with training focused on strengthening livelihood skills, compensating for a lack of formal education, a safe place to work, and alleviating dependence on male family members which reinforce societal norms. Another core goal of Shakti.ism’s mission is to provide women with the opportunity to become self-sustaining entrepreneurs, granting them access to a global market, financial and emotional support and secured wages.

Shakti.ism’s partnership with several NGOs has allowed the organization’s mission to reach women living in many parts of India, including Pondicherry, Jaipur, Hyderabad, and Chennai. The nonprofit organization has also partnered with another social enterprise called Basha Enterprises, allowing the mission to expand its reach to women in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Many of the women that have been employed by Shakti.ism have pursued entrepreneurship and are now participants in a global market, and working to ensure economic prosperity and a decrease in global poverty.

Future Directions

The United Nations cites that “empowering women in the economy and closing gender gaps in the world of work are key to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Growth” which strives to end poverty. As demonstrated by the work and reach of Shakti.ism, the economic empowerment of women is vital in the mission to end global poverty.

– Stacy Moses
Photo: Flickr

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

Coffee farms fight world povertyCoffee is the world’s second-favorite drink, only behind water. In the U.S., Americans drink more than 580 million cups of coffee per day. Worldwide, more than three billion cups are consumed per day. To support the world’s love of coffee, many developing countries rely on their coffee-growing industries supported by small farmers. The majority of these small farmers, unfortunately, live in impoverished conditions. With the popularity of coffee and the market, there is a way that coffee farms can fight world poverty.

An Unsustainable Business

Small farmers produce about 80 percent of the global coffee supply. These farmers, known as smallholders, are defined as “owning small-based plots of land on which they grow subsistence crops and one or two cash crops relying almost exclusively on family labor.” An estimated 25 million smallholder farmers produce the world’s coffee supply. Unfortunately, they earn less than 10 percent per pound of the sale value of their coffee. Combined with the added costs of production, this quickly becomes an unprofitable business.

With the current situation being so hard economically, more and more coffee farmers have moved out of the industry. The past couple of years have brought drought and an increase in crop diseases like “coffee rust.” Coffee prices have dropped to a 12 year low.

Not only are farmers unable to support themselves and their families, but there are also a number of other challenges that have pushed them out of the coffee growing business. The environment in which coffee grows best requires a high altitude that is usually in remote and mountainous areas. This limits access to markets and adds the cost of transportation and middlemen. Changing weather conditions and lack of environmentally sustainable practices along with weak management and poor training have led to the inefficiency of coffee production.

In the department of Risaralda in Colombia, lies a small coffee farm known as a “Finca del Café.” Here, there are 10 hectares of land dedicated to the growth of Arabica coffee, a type of coffee that does best in the high altitude. The winding path through the Finca reveals the complex process of coffee growing that takes years of time. The farmer, who learned to grow coffee from his grandparents, expressed the unsustainability of the coffee business in 2019. They had to turn to other sources for revenue such as capitalizing on tourism of the area and building conference buildings.

Is Fair-Trade The Solution?

Despite the current situation of coffee production, the demand for the drink is increasing. If the current trend continues, there is predicted to be a shortage by 2050. In order to help small farmers and the coffee business, many companies are turning to fair-trade. According to the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics, “the promise of the fair-trade movement is that coffee growers in poor nations will receive a higher price for coffee if it is produced in better working conditions with higher wages.”

Unfortunately, no solution is perfect. Fair-trade impacts farmers by artificially raising the sale price of coffee, targetting production and not poverty. Other initiatives that focus on coffee farmers’ operations and management have shown more success. NUCAFE (National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises) works to facilitate services for Ugandan coffee farmers while having them take ownership of their crops. In Colombia, coffee farmers are investing in digital tools to better manage their farms and transactions.

Coffee and Culture

There are many coffee farms in Colombia’s Cafetero region facing these issues. While some are forced to give up coffee due to the lack of profit, others try to maintain the culture of coffee growing. Coffee farms like the aforementioned “Finca del Cafe” make it their purpose to inform others of the coffee-making process and also to bring awareness to the problems modern coffee farmers are facing.

Local coffee is sold all around the region and coffee is a large part of Colombia’s larger society. The problems encountered by coffee producers can ultimately change Colombia’s culture, a country that prides itself on its coffee.

– Margarita Orozco
Photo: Flickr

ethical shopping websites
Online shopping is a quick, convenient way to buy almost everything these days. However, as more consumers become concerned with labor conditions and the ethics of the companies they are purchasing from, online shopping has become more complicated. In order to help users see which brands align most with their ethics and values, multiple platforms have become available to help take the guesswork out of ethical shopping. Using one or all of these ethical shopping websites allows consumers to vote with their dollars and take some of the guilt out of online shopping.

Good On You

Good On You is available both on the web and as an app. It ranks clothing brands on a zero to five scale based on their performance in three categories: people, planet and animals. The organization then uses the ratings of these categories to formulate the brand’s overall rating from one to five. Good On You provides links to where users can buy Good and Great brands (rated fours and fives, respectively) on its respective rating pages.

The people category focusses on workers’ rights across a brand’s supply chain. Factors taken into consideration include practices and policies related to child labor, worker safety, forced labor, the right to join a union and payment of a living wage. The planet category considers a brand’s impact on the environment. Specific metrics included in the evaluation are resource use and disposal, carbon emissions, energy use, water use and chemical use and disposal. The animal category is concerned with whether or not a company uses animal products, and if so, the sourcing of such products. Specific animal products Good On You notes include fur, down feathers, angora, karakul, shearling and the skin and hair of exotic animals. The company also considers if and how brands use wool, mulesing and leather.

For each of the three categories, Good On You also considers whether or not brands are taking positive steps toward becoming more ethical or showing industry leadership. Conversely, it also considers “negative citizenship” practices, such as lobbying against legislation to reduce harm or increase transparency.

The organization sources information used to determine brand ratings from independent certification schemes and rating projects like Fair Trade, OEKO-TEX and the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). Where one of the rating projects does not cover an ethical issue, Good On You utilizes the brand’s public statements. However, Good On You only uses brand statements if they make specific and relevant claims. In most cases, if these claims are false, the company in question would be violating misleading advertising laws, and thus, people would not consider the claims reliable.

Ecoture

Ecoture is one of Australia’s only ethical shopping websites. It allows users to shop ethical clothing and beauty brands all in one place. Like Good On You, Ecoture allows users to see which brands align most with their values. Icons designate whether or not a brand is cruelty-free, natural, upcycled/recycled, ethically made, organic, vegan, handmade, sustainable or vegetarian.

Ecoture’s Impact

Ecoture also commits to alleviating labor abuses and the poverty that comes with them. Today, an estimated 40 million people are garment workers, and 85 percent of them are women. Ecoture has partnered with i=Change to help empower the girls and women working in the garment industry. The organization partners with multiple NGOs in order to support projects that directly impact the lives of women and girls worldwide.

With every purchase from Ecoture, consumers may choose an NGO fighting on behalf of women and girls in developing countries. Then, Ecoture donates $1 per sale to that customer’s organization through i=Change. Customers can then track the impact of Ecoture and i=Change supported projects, allowing them to see just how Ecoture is using their contributions.

Online shopping does not have to mean compromising on ethics or core values. With ethical shopping websites like Good On You and Ecoture, consumers are able to choose which brands, causes and values they should use their dollars to support and promote.

– Shania Kennedy
Photo: Pixabay