The "fair trade" movement is a
global grassroots effort to re-align economic relationships between
manufacturers and growers (usually in developing countries) and
consumers (usually in the developed West) in terms of social justice
rather than monetary profit alone. This month, fair-trade groups in
more than 200 countries have been convening "fair-trade fairs" to raise
awareness and promote dialog.
The air at the New York Fair Trade Day event was warm and
aroma-rich, as vendors and activists from around the world gathered to
show off their wares and teach others about their movement.
Scott Codey of the New York Fair Trade Coalition stood proudly near a colorful
group of vendor booths, offering everything from stuffed animals made
from Malian "mud cloth" to whimsical metal sculptures from Vietnam to
papier-mâché bowls made in Haiti.
Codey explained that the fair trade movement is an alternative trading system based on justice and fairness.
way globalization has occurred over the past 25 years has been where
profits have been elevated to be more important than anything else," he
said. "Fair trade is about making sure that the people who grow the
things we depend on, who make the things we depend on, get paid
squarely for what they produce."
are especially eager to help the family farmers who grow the coffee and
cocoa beans that end up in products sold by Starbucks, Cadbury's and
other international corporations.
In what Codey calls the
"normal" trading system, "… farmers have one guy who will come up to
their farm once or twice a season and say, 'Hey, this is what is the
market price for coffee is. This is what I am going to give you.' The
farmer doesn't have information to make any other… decisions. So he has
to sell to that particular person, or he starves."
contrast," Codey continued, "Fair trade helps farmers get organized
into democratic cooperatives, then bypass the middlemen to bring their
product directly to northern markets."
He claimed that, as a result, fair-trade farmers can get three or four times what they can get under "normal" market terms.
At a table nearby, Jennifer Gray of the Autonomie Project was selling sneakers made by a
fair-trade cooperative from Pakistan and handwoven
clothing made by a cooperative of single mothers in a remote region of
Gray said the opportunity to make and sell these garments has been a
boon for the women who once had to depend on local hotels for irregular
work at low wages.
"Some days, they would get a telephone
call [saying], 'We want you to clean garbage cans' or 'We want you to
clean dog poop' or 'Cut the grass,'" she said. "… And they would have
to stay, working 12, 14 or 15 hours a day until [the job was] done,
because it was the only employment available to them, and they had to
feed their families."
Under the fair-trade cooperative system,
the women can set their own schedules as long as the orders get done in
a timely fashion.
Gray acknowledged that women may not be
seeing "mounds of money come in," but "they're so empowered to know
that they're useful and can and sustain their families. And that's
because of fair trade," she said, beaming.
to work cooperatively, in a system in which all members benefit
equally, takes training, said Bernard Domingo. The artist has been fashioning tabletop motorcycles, horses and other
figures out of wire ever since he was a boy in the slums of Zimbabwe.
In recent years, Domingo has taught a group of his friends the craft
and also how to think and work as a team, rather than as lone
"When you do a cooperative,
you must not be greedy," he warned, "because when you make a
cooperative, it means all you guys are the same."
When one person
tries to benefit more than the others, it can spell the doom of a
cooperative, he said, "… because then other people will say, 'Why
should I be putting more effort?' Then they just stop."
American consumers want to support fair-trade practices and take
responsibility for the implications of their purchasing decisions, said
the New York Fair Trade Coalition's Scott Codey. But until now, he
said, they haven't known how.
"Most people are not indifferent
to the suffering of people around the world," he said. "People in the
United States, for the most part, simply … don't have [accurate]
information. When they are aware of what's happening at the other end
of the supply chain, they want to make a difference."
That's why, he said, there has been an "explosion" of fair trade in the United States over the last 10 years.
"After all," adds Codey, "what's fair is fair."