Fair Trade gets a bad rap sometimes. It gets dismissed as the efforts of a bunch of hippies trying to push their left-wing protectionist agenda on hard-working people who have their own problems to worry about. Many of the people who hold this opinion haven’t taken the time to delve into the complexities of Fair Trade.
Because in reality, that’s not it at all. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
You see, Fair Trade is not about making anyone look better than anyone else, or trying to guilt normal, hard-working people into buying particular things.
Fair Trade is all about the opportunities.
Obviously, the opportunities for farmers and artisans are huge:
They get the chance to rise above endemic poverty, which they were born into and would likely never escape without a Fair Trade agreement on the table
Not only do they raise themselves out of poverty, but they have the opportunity to break the cycle for good, raising their children in relative comfort and teaching them the skills necessary to provide a good life for their children when the time comes
The people working in developing countries almost always have a deep sense of responsibility to their elders and the rest of their community. Just one or two producers can transform the fortune of an entire village by providing regular work and income to people who might otherwise not be able to earn.
They get the chance to participate in local economics in a meaningful way. As more and more producers become self-sustaining, they can put more money towards sustaining their local environment and building up local infrastructure to strengthen their community’s economic position, reducing the risk of exploitation and degradation of the culture.
And it’s not just the people that produce Fair Trade goods that are exposed to greater opportunity.
For us, the people working in Fair Trade businesses, the opportunities are of a less material nature, but are no less significant:
Working with Fair Trade producers means that our work is truly meaningful and creates real, tangible change in the world. We have the privilege of seeing what our hard work translates to - something many other business people are deprived of.
We have the opportunity to teach our children about responsibility and awareness with concrete evidence of why it’s important, and the impact your choices have on the world around you
The creeping sense of futility and emptiness of a life purely driven by the need to acquire ‘stuff’ is removed from our day-to-day. Every action we take and every resource expended has a purpose and creates positive change where it’s needed most.
The opportunity to end the cycles of exploitation and unethical business behaviour is a huge responsibility, but it’s one we welcome with open arms. Raising awareness in the general community about how important their choices are, and highlighting when big companies are wreaking havoc on small communities, is an opportunity to take our place among the great names who have changed the world before us.
And for you, the buyer, there are opportunities too.
It can be hard in normal life to feel like you could ever make a difference. There are so many causes that need attention, so many people to help, and so much cynicism in the world that it’s easy to become paralysed.
Buying Fair Trade gives you the opportunity to overcome that crippling sense of impotence. It allows you to directly affect the fortune of another human for the better. It gives you the opportunity to shift economic focus in your country to more sustainable production practices, and to start to address the huge imbalances between your life and the life of the person who produced the item in your hand.