September 30, 2014
On Sunday September 21, hundreds of thousands of people around the world gathered together in big cities and small towns. They marched together, held up signs, gave interviews to national and local press, and made their cause known all over social media.
Here in Chiang Mai, we met with a handful of other socially-minded people and did the same.
It was, in fact, one of the largest worldwide demonstrations to occur in modern history.
And what was it all about?
An issue that is now being referred to as the single greatest threat to human security. An issue that will continue to poison us if we don’t act, and an issue that has been swept under the rug for far too long.
Around the world it’s clear to see that this is not some fictitious problem. It’s not some conspiracy that’s been dreamt up by mad scientists. It is the clear and present danger of our time.
More and more frequently, we are seeing devastating droughts, increases in both ocean and land temperatures, catastrophic weather events and the ongoing melting of icecaps which, according to scientific projections, should not be happening for many years yet.
Here in Thailand, climate change presents real, tangible threats.
As the biggest exporter of rice in the world, Thailand’s fertile coastal and rural areas have long provided extensive agricultural employment and income. The coast also hosts a huge tourism industry that contributes to the livelihoods of 10% of the population. Bangkok, the giant, vibrant capital, is one of the largest cities in the region, and is a social, political and economic center.
The Climate Institute predicts that within 20 years, rising sea levels, floods and increasing surface temperatures could combine to destroy Thailand’s rice crops and tourism trade, and to submerge Bangkok. Yes, submerge it - all those highrises and towers, underwater.
It’s obvious that these events would be absolutely devastating, with the capacity to seriously destabilise the political and economic position the country and the entire region.
An address to the UN this week suggested that the time has passed where individuals can halt the progress of climate change, that it was time that only industry and government could really make any serious inroads on the issue. That may well be the case on a large scale, but that doesn’t defer our responsibility.
Chances are that if you’re a Global Groove reader, you’re a conscious person. You think about where your purchases come from, and how your actions and behaviour impact your community and the environment.
So please, PLEASE - stay focused on what you can do for the Earth.
The Fair Trade community is doing its best to create sustainable, non-polluting business practices around the world.
Please join with us and do whatever you can: be it car-pooling or getting a bike, taking your own material shopping bags to the market, being proactive about recycling and upcycling, and teaching your kids and community members to do the same.
This is a crisis on a truly global scale, but if we all pull together and do what we can - and continue pressuring our governments to do the same - we can still turn this thing around.
We’re calling on you to join us, to be the change.
September 23, 2014
Fair Trade strikes a chord with many people. For some, it’s a clear-cut choice of buying responsibly. For others, it’s a way to stick it to the man. For others still, it’s a choice born of extensive research, a deep passion for the environment, or a love of unique handmade goods.
There are many reasons to buy Fair Trade - just as many reasons as there are people. In this article, though, we are covering the top 7 reasons to buy Fair Trade. Feel free to jump to our Facebook page and leave a comment about what motivates you to buy Fair Trade!
1 Buying Fair Trade goods changes the producer's life for the better.
Their work creates a livable income for them and their families. It allows them to go to work every day in a safe & hospitable environment - not to struggle for cents in dangerous conditions.
2 Fair Trade production is sustainable and environmentally aware.
Fair Trade products use a significantly lower amount of harmful components, as it is not in the interest of the producer to be handling them all the time. The elements of Fair Trade goods are generally sustainable produced and are often locally sourced. In turn, this creates an economic onflow in local community while preserving and even restoring the local environment.
3 Fair Trade products are usually better quality.
4 Fair Trade encourages communities to become self-sustaining.
In many communities, moving away from aid assistance is a real turning point. Fair Trade helps facilitate this, because as more people are involved in work that provides a livable income, subsistence becomes less and less of an issue. Community members are empowered to take responsibility for the economic and cultural growth of their businesses, and this creates a cycle of increased living conditions, confidence and business success.
5 Fair Trade helps to maintain cultural integrity and long-standing traditions.
In many communities, financial insecurity means that people are forced to leave their ancestral homes to seek work in the big cities. This disconnects them from the beliefs, traditions and rituals that give them a unique and powerful identity.
Fair Trade businesses can create enough income that people no longer have to move away, meaning that they can maintain the important cultural elements of their community. This is particularly important with the rise of globalisation - as young people are drawn towards the global way of living, it’s key that they also have a connection with their history, so that the traditions of their ancestors are not lost.
6 Fair Trade reduces the incidence of gender inequality through the economic empowerment of women.
When women have the opportunity to make a living wage as is provided by Fair Trade, they are empowered to make independent decisions and to improve the lives of their families. By increase the total household earnings, their work often provides the income necessary to give children an education, and can mean the ability to care for extended family members in need.
7 Fair Trade increases diversity in the marketplace while holding corporations to a higher standard.
Transparency and a high level of social responsibility have, until recently, not been priorities for corporations and large businesses. The rise of Fair Trade and ethical consumption concerns have meant a shift in attitudes, though, and corporations are being called on to be more open and trustworthy in their dealings with producers and in their use of resources. As the Fair Trade movement grows, it is creating a social pressure that companies will have to acknowledge if they are to stay competitive in a society of conscious consumers.
It’s clear that there are many reasons to buy Fair Trade goods. But tell us - why do you buy Fair Trade products? Tell us here!
September 17, 2014
Kids are pretty amazing, aren't they?
They are these curious little creatures who bounce around in the world, listening here, copying there, all the while laying down the foundations for who they will become in the future.
In the last couple of weeks, we've been working on producing a new kids line. These felt toys are bright, imaginative and fun - everything parents hope for for their kids each day.
And while we've been hard at work, we've been thinking about kids a lot, and their place in this changing world.
The Dalai Lama once said that if all 8-year olds were taught to meditate, we would eliminate violence around the globe in one generation.
And the same holds true for conscious consumption - if we teach our kids the value of material goods, and the people who create them, we could erase inequality around the world in just a few years.
You see, kids are like little sponges. They absorb our attitudes and habits. They emulate our behaviours and interactions.
So it's a huge opportunity that parents (or anyone with kids in their lives, for that matter) to teach their kids about Fair Trade, about conscious and ethical consumption, and about the impact your everyday actions have on the world at large.
Teaching them to be aware of where their food and clothes come from, how they are made and transported, and where their money eventually ends up will set your kiddos on a path that will have a hugely positive impact for them personally, for the environment, and for producers all over the world.
It's easy to teach kids about consumption if you look for the opportunities.
When you're shopping, ask them to tell you where certain products are made, or to guess what the person who made it might be like. Anchoring the concept of conscious consumption to people and places will help them to assimilate the lessons much more quickly.
If they plan to throw something away, ask them what else they could do with it instead. Make a game of recycling, up-cycling and exchange so they enjoy the process instead of feeling like they're getting a lecture every time they approach the trash can.
Having kids in your life is a precious experience. But what's even better is the opportunity to help them grow into tomorrow's leaders.
Your kids can be the change the world needs. It's up to you to give them the tools.
September 09, 2014
It’s at this point that yoga and Fair Trade truly intersect.
Yoga practitioners crave yoga products that have been produced in fair, ethical and safe environments, because they already understand honouring the spirit in others that is a reflection of the spirit in you - a true expression of 'namaste'.
Yoga and Fair Trade beat with the same heart.
September 01, 2014
“Don’t tell people what you do, tell them what problems you solve.” ~Ian Altman
This quote popped up on one of our Facebook pages last week, and it really got us thinking. It’s easy to tell people that we’re a Fair Trade company, or that we produce lifestyle products with artisans in Thailand and Nepal.
But it’s harder for people to see beyond those neat little descriptions to what problems a business like Global Groove Life really solves.
As we’ve reflected on before, Fair Trade is really about the people. We deliver great products, but we’re all about the people who create them.
When it boils down to it, we see being part of the Fair Trade movement as solving 3 key problems:
Helping to preserve the cultural integrity of producers
Helping producers and their communities to overcome financial insecurity
Helping to create frameworks for small businesses that enable producers to become independent and successful.
Let’s break those down.
Helping to preserve the cultural integrity of producers
Around the world, it’s more and more common that the cultural heritage of small communities is being eroded. The coinciding increase of global tourism and use of the Internet have meant that people who were once completely isolated from the world at large are now right in the thick of things.
Put yourself in that position.
It’s hard to protect your traditions, beliefs and cultural history when you’re suddenly under a microscope, and everyone in your village is being forced to leave the land your culture is built on, in order to migrate to the cities to scrape together a living.
But when you are working with a Fair Trade agreement, you are no longer faced with the stark choice of tearing yourself away from your culture so that you can survive.
Your basic needs are cared for, and so you are able to stay in your village, investing in the local economy and continuing to be involved in your traditional way of life.
You are not exposed to the soul-destroying loneliness of moving away from everyone and everything you know for a pittance, working for a corporate client who doesn’t care about your conditions, or that all your traditional knowledge is starting to disappear the longer the people in your community are away from each other.
Helping producers and their communities to overcome financial insecurity
When we first met Dia, she was in a flurry. Life had been going fine, but just recently her husband had been in accident. He was unable to walk, and needed urgent medical attention. Without his income from his job as a driver, their family, previously comfortable, was suddenly in dire straits.
For many producers around the world, things are just fine, but a single event can knock everything off-kilter. They make enough money to feed their families, keep everyone clothed, and maybe even to enjoy the odd indulgence.
But if the family’s main earner gets sick or has an accident, the future becomes bleak extremely quickly.
These days, Dia is one of our master tailors. She manages a team of women, and her work provides a steady income for her family.
Her Fair Trade contract guarantees that she makes a comfortable living - that allows her to put a little aside for a rainy day. She has now picked up enough customers through her Fair Trade contacts that she’s safe from the unexpected.
This is because a Fair Trade agreement gives the producer a deposit to create their orders. The onus is not on the producer to come up with the funds for all the materials before they’ve been paid - which is the opposite of how most larger corporate businesses do it.
Large corporations not only expect producers to front all the costs, but they will often catch producers out in fine print: If an order is running late, the producer will be charged a fee for every extra day. If stock doesn’t sell, or a customer returns it, the producer won’t be paid for those items.
This creates an extremely stressful situation for the producer, because all the risk is on them, and there is no leeway for life to happen. If someone gets sick, has a baby, totals their bike… it all comes crashing down and the producer is completely exposed.
Fair Trade protects producers from these lose-lose situations, and guarantees them reasonable conditions for fulfilling their orders.
Helping to create frameworks for small businesses that enable producers to become independent and successful.
Many producers have little formal education. They’re talented, hard-working and resourceful, but it’s often the case that they haven’t been exposed to the frameworks that make running a business simple and sustainable.
Having a Fair Trade contract in place helps them to meet people who can teach them how to systemise their businesses, and who can give them valuable insights into the markets the producer is trying to crack.
Bijay, who creates our wool felt products, started out with a little shop. He came up with all the designs, made them by hand, staffed the shop, sourced customers and trained new staff - all himself. Often in the same day. It’s the kind of activity that would terrify (or inspire!) a lesser creature.
Unfortunately, trying to do everything yourself handicaps the business.
Bijay was constantly exhausted, stressed and drained of creativity. He would lose designs and samples, customer orders would get confused, and while he wanted to grow the wholesale aspect of his business, he just couldn’t find the time.
When Bijay realised he could very simply systemise many aspects of his fledgling business, he saw that he would be able to scale up his output significantly. With some simple operating procedures & specifically trained staff, he is now able to focus on the high-leverage tasks of getting new wholesale customers and creating innovative new designs that his customers would be excited to purchase.
Fair Trade is about much more than providing a living wage.
While that’s a vital element, the practical application of a Fair Trade contract goes far deeper into the lives and businesses of the producers. It transforms individual lives, and can revive entire communities in one swoop. Those are the problems we help to solve, and we couldn’t be happier about it.
August 26, 2014
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.
So when it's time for you to buy things, be it gifts for others, accessories for your home, or even just a new yoga mat bag for yourself, choose a Fair Trade item.
It costs you very little, but the opportunities are priceless.
August 19, 2014
Travel is always such a whirlwind, isn’t it? There’s this manic scramble before you leave, packing, repacking and starting all over again, making sure you’ve got your cables and snacks and clothes and maps and lists and…. it just goes on and on.
But that’s the magic of it all, the unpredictable, unforeseeable beauty of gathering yourselves up and just going. We’ve been doing it a while now, and that is the only constant.
On our most recent trip, hauling ourselves all the way to the UK, and then bustling down into Nepal, we had some time to reflect on the process our materials and products have gone through as we grew.
Here we’d like to share some musings on that growth from a little while ago, when we rebranded from Fair Trade by HOPE to Global Groove Life:
Back in '98, after our first pop-up store, we literally travelled the length of India for interesting products to bring back to our customers in California for the following holiday season. Once we reached southern India, Mysore to be exact, we found ourselves not only high on the scent of sandalwood but intoxicated by the array of fine silks available.
Without a clue what we would do with it, we purchased yards of raw silk in just about every color imaginable.
This silk travelled on our backs via a third-class sleeper car from the southern tip of India back up and through the holy city of Varanasi. It travelled overland through a massive storm and leaky bus for three days from Varanasi to Kathmandu - over 1500 miles in total. And that's where we learned, after such a crazy journey, that Kathmandu was famous for embroidery!
Remember there was no Wifi in those days, Internet in that part of the world existed only in major cities and you could expect to wait up to three hours for your turn on the one computer. So we had no idea what we could expect to find anywhere in our travels.
So there we were with a pack full of silk surrounded on every street corner by the buzz of embroidering, and at Christmas 1998 we offered the most amazing silk cushion covers with intricate and colorful celtic knots that you have ever seen!
And now, in full knowledge of what Kathmandu has to offer, we carried fabric from afar once again. It didn't experience the authentic traveler's rite-of-passage journey as did our first go, but it did travel, albeit by jet...
From Chiang Mai to Bangkok to Delhi to London to Delhi to Kathmandu to Delhi to Bangkok and back to Chiang Mai.
Here in Chiang Mai the beautiful embroidered material is stitched into yoga mat bags, and then released out into the world to keep flowing to where it’s wanted. In keeping with Global Groove tradition, you can not get this in Kathmandu because the fabric doesn't exist there, nor can you get it in Chiang Mai, because this type of hand embroidery doesn't exist here.
It’s still amazing to us, after all these years, that travel and a small spark of inspiration led us to where we are today.
We started out with just a handful of artisans in the beginning, and now there are whole teams working to build this Global Groove Life together and to boost Fair Trade all around the world.
August 12, 2014 1 Comment
Over the many years since Fairtrade first began, the movement has seen many ups and downs.
As with any movement that seeks to change the comfortable status quo, there have been critics, naysayers and outright enemies from the get go.
The biggest criticism leveled at Fairtrade over the years has come from academics, who claim that an insufficient amount of the sale price reaches the original producer. This is an oversimplification of the facts, and a perfect example of economists wilfully misrepresenting data to suit their agenda.
Fairtrade farmers and producers are paid in a two-pronged system.
First up, producers are paid fixed price, agreed on by both parties before production and distribution goes ahead. This is known as the floor price, and it is designed to protect producers in the event that the market fluctuates and purchasing prices drop below what they would otherwise earn.
Producers then receive an additional amount, known as the Fairtrade Premium, that can be used for whatever they want. Many producers put this extra income towards developing their communities and protecting their local resources. This ensures that their way of life and income are protected, while benefiting others in their community - a rising tide lifts all ships.
Other critics will argue that implementing a floor price isn’t enough, that there are plantation workers who are unprotected because they are not part of a Fair Trade co-op, that conglomerates can abuse the Fair Trade system.
And those are legitimate concerns - but they are determinedly ignoring the big picture.
Recently Fairtrade International - the predominant certifying body - introduced hiring standards, meaning that even casual workers are protected and paid a living wage. It supports the unionization of workers, and greater freedom in their allocation of income.
Fair Trade USA, which split from Fairtrade International in 2012, has been globally decried for its willingness to extend certification to large plantations with internal management protocols. The FTUSA position has provided a loophole for large corporations to take advantage of the marketing clout of Fair Trade without helping to sustain or develop the movement.
The big picture is that over 1.4 million coffee, tea, banana and orange growers, cacao producers, jewelry artisans, and tailors all over the world have been tipped back from the brink of destitution by their Fair Trade affiliation.
Let’s call it what it is. The most vocal opponents of Fair Trade are the ones with the most to lose. They are the ones who, in the words of one insightful journalist, would have their apple carts overturned by ‘interference in the correct running of markets’.
We’ve seen this before. Just as it was an uphill battle for the civil rights movement to overcome the violent opposition of the white community, so it is an uphill battle to win fair, livable working conditions for all against the powerful corporations that run the global economy.
For you and me, though, it’s not such a battle. We have the privilege of simply voting with our wallets, and it is a small price to pay. A couple of dollars each time you go to the supermarket or pick up a gift is all it takes to start moving retailers and suppliers towards more and more Fair Trade purchases. Encouraging one or two other people can start a chain reaction.
Choose consciously, and don’t let the naysayers get you down.
August 01, 2014
Here at Global Groove Life we’re proud of our Fair Trade certification, and we’re proud to be part of the global Fair Trade movement.
That movement has been riding a groundswell since the late 1940s, when a handful of religious and political groups, morally incensed by the horrors of World War Two, started started developing supply chains for from a small number of developing countries.
The products they started producing were largely sold into local economies - there was not enough awareness or demand at the time for department stores or chains to stock the cross-stitch and jute products.
It was not until the 1960s that Fair Trade really started to evolve into a social force.
The 60s are famous now for their political and social upheaval, and the blooming focus on social responsibility and individual ethics were one positive outcome.
At this time, students and young political players realised that boosting local economies was a much more effective way to help people than the scattershot approach to aid that most Western countries were applying.
In 1968, the UN adopted the popular slogan from the student movement - “Trade, not Aid.” That was the same year that Whole Earth Catalog, a broadsheet in the USA, started connecting producers in developing nations with the retailers and consumers who would start trading directly with them, effectively bypassing the bottlenecks of large corporate buying procedures.
By the time the early 1970s rolled around, dozens of ‘worldshops’ had opened around Europe, with volunteers running the stores to sell goods produced to fair trade standards in the developing world.
The 70s also saw a much greater proportion of individuals getting involved in Fair Trade. With many developing nations excluded from international trade on a political basis, thousands of volunteers took to selling products from their homes, churches and parks to support farmers in places like Angola and Nicaragua. This helped improved the general visibility of the fair trade movement, and exposed thousands more people to the concept of buying responsibly.
The Fair Trade movement faced a crisis point in the early 1980s. Many retailers felt that Fair Trade products often looked dated, and they were having trouble trading off the declining novelty factor. Demand for ethically sourced products plateaued, and a fall in commodity prices meant that the industry had to restructure - and quickly - to maintain any momentum.
Into the 1990s, many of these concerns were addressed, and ethical products became very successful in the Western retail markets.
Handicrafts slowly regained their popularity, maintaining the lion’s share of the Fair Trade industry. The emergence of agricultural products like coffee, tea, rice, nuts, cocoa, dried fruit, sugar and spices was key in the continuing growth of the industry.
A hugely important event in the development of Fair Trade was the introduction of certification. Up until this point, there has been no real regulation on the products being promoted as ethically sourced. In 1988, the first certification board was created in the Netherlands. This independent certification meant that Fair Trade products could be sold far beyond the confines of the little European worldshops.
At this point, Fair Trade sales really started taking off, as products started being stocked in large chains and department stores, removing the serious inconvenience consumers had previously faced in obtaining these products.
It also gave retailers and consumers alike the confidence they had previously been lacking - that they were truly paying for a product that would benefit the producer.
Soon enough, certification organizations had popped up all over the world, and in 1997, Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) had standardized the global certification process. FLO now sets the standard all Fair Trade products must meet, how inspections are conducted, how support is provided to producers, as well as harmonizing the message over Fair Trade between participating organizations.
These days, in order to be approved to carry the Fair Trade Certified stamp, the product in question must meet some key criteria:
Crops must be grown and harvested according to FLO standards
The supply chain must be monitored by FLO to guarantee the product’s integrity
The working conditions of the producers must be safe and healthy
Producers must be paid a living wage and not face exploitation
The organization must not engage any child or slave labor
The production process must protect and conserve the local environment
The organization must facilitate social development
These days, the proportion of Fair Trade goods on the market has switched from what it was throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Agricultural products now lead the charge, with a huge variety of goods falling under Fair Trade certification: bananas, mangos and oranges; sugar, tea and coffee; cocoa beans and cocoa; honey, nuts, seeds and oils; rice, quinoa, spices and wine. Handicrafts - such as clothing, jewelry, yoga accessories and homewares - now account for about a third of the ethical goods on offer.
July 30, 2014
The artisans we work with at Global Groove Life come from a diverse range of ethnic groups, and we’re privileged to work with such an interesting mix of people.
The different heritage, languages, belief systems and world views are always opening us up to new ideas, new experiences and a greater understanding of the world around us.
Thailand has a huge range of ethnic groups, each with their own languages, traditions and styles. Thais make up about 90% of the general population, while minority groups account for the rest.
Among the most well known of these minorities are the Karen.
With a population of around 400,000 people in Thailand, the Karen themselves are a diverse collection of smaller ethnic groups. Two of our artisans, Dia and Ning, are part of the Karen community who live in and around Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand.
The Karen are primarily from Burma (Myanmar), and have had a tumultuous history. From clashes with the central Burmese government and subsequent British administration throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the Karen have been massively displaced from their original land.
The Akha are another of the larger minority groups found in northern Thailand.
They also live in parts of Myanmar, Laos and Yunnan province in China. Civil war in Laos and Myanmar meant that like the Karen, the Akha were forced to flee, and now a population of over 80,000 are settled around Chiang Mai.
Ahsu and Nueng, our master jewelers, are from the Akha community. Many of their compatriots still work in agriculture, which has traditionally been the foundation of Akha economy. Today, however, ‘ecotourism’ means more and more people make their living from entertaining the tourists who come to spend a day in the life of the village.
Like the Karen and Akhu, the Lahu people are one of the largest ‘hill tribes’ now residing in Thailand.
Jane, one of our tailors, is Lahu and again, their story is one of displacement as a result of civil war. Once known as tiger-hunters, the Lahu now live sparse lives, relying on back-breaking subsistence farming, blacksmithing and weaving to continue their way of life.
All these people - their rich heritage and culture - will be eroded over time if they do not become empowered and autonomous.
This is at the root of why we seek out talented artisans in these communities.
Becoming part of a Fair Trade company gives artisans the power to make effective changes in their community.
For many it’s the difference between making a respectable living and doing something that would alienate them from their people and themselves.
It empowers them to care for family members who cannot work, to educate their children, and to contribute to their community in the unique and meaningful ways of each people. Fair Trade guarantees them a livable wage - meaning that the desperation that can destroy whole cultures is removed from the equation, person by person.
It’s this that we strive for every day.
Of course, we love delivering beautiful goods to our customers, and it’s our joy to have a business that creates such high quality jewelry, yoga gear and homewares.
But at the heart of it, our passion to see justice brought to the people who toil to create those goods is what drives us forward, and we’re honored that you’re along for the ride with us.
July 22, 2014
“This is Gina - she runs a free trade company!”
“No, no, actually, I run a fair trade company.”
“Oh… what’s the difference? Aren’t they the same?”
Ohhh boy. Today we’re going to clean up one of the biggest misconceptions we butt up against frequently in our work with Global Groove Life.
The conversation above is one we have pretty often, and it’s a mistake that even the most well-meaning people make, without even realising they’re doing it. Every so often, someone will refer to what we do as free trade, rather than fair trade.
And I get it - it’s confusing! The phrases are really similar. Thing is though, they mean really different things. Really different things.
Free Trade is defined as:
“The unrestricted sale and purchase of goods and services between countries without the imposition of constraints such as tariffs, duties and quotas.”
Fair Trade is defined as:
“A movement whose goal is to help producers in developing countries to get a fair price for their products so as to reduce poverty, provide for the ethical treatment of workers and farmers, and promote environmentally sustainable practices.”
These are both economic systems focused on the purchase and sale of products between countries or communities. But one is focused on profits, and one is focused on people.
Free trade agreements are generally employed by the governments of wealthy nations when dealing with the governments of developing nations.
These agreements generally remove the barriers to countries doing business, such as high import taxes or price controls that might otherwise come into play.
Proponents of free trade believe that businesses should succeed or fail based on whether they can compete in the marketplace. They believe that each business should be capable of meeting the demands of its customer base, and stay ahead of its competitors, without needing any special government involvement to protect workers or regulate practices.
The principle at work here is that a voluntary exchange between the business, their customers and their workers will ultimately result in fairness for all involved.
Fair Trade is about doing business ethically. Its main concern is about the end producer: how they are treated and how their resources are managed, rather than whether the government of their country is being charged export taxes on their products.
Proponents of Fair Trade argue that trade between developed countries and developing countries is skewed in favour of the developed country. They believe trade should take place on more equitable terms, with mutual advantage resulting for both parties.
Fair Trade aims to pay producers (such as farmers, tailors and jewelers) a living wage; that is, a wage that enables them to live comfortably in their community, instead of living hand to mouth despite doing demanding and time-consuming work. This stands in direct contrast to the free trade model, where paying the producer less is an acceptable way of increasing a company’s total revenue.
According to Fairtrade.org, free trade introduces an exploitative mechanism which impoverishes those in the Third World:
"Particularly in the field of trade, our area of attention, the law of the strongest is frequently the only law. In Asia, Africa and Latin America, both male and female craftsmen and farmers know all about this. If they cannot free themselves from the grasp of the numerous middlemen and buyers, who from their position of power prescribe the lowest prices, they will remain slaves of circumstances their entire lives."
To combat this, most Fair Trade business trade with local producers at ‘supracompetitive’ prices - they pay more than the standard market price in order to alleviate the cycle of poverty and hopelessness producers would otherwise face.
This is an extensive topic, and really today we’ve just scratched the surface! But now you know the difference:
Free trade is about profits, fair trade is about people.
July 16, 2014
In today’s world, travel is more common than ever.
Young and old people alike set out from their homes without amazing frequency to go out into the world, to see how other people live, and to expand their own horizons.
It’s experiences like this that can revolutionise how people think about Fair Trade - visiting the places where our commodities are produced can be a startling wake-up call.
There are over 1.5 billion people around the world who don’t have proper access to basic living necessities - clean water, adequate food, a safe place to live. To put that in context, 15 million Americans travel overseas for leisure every year, and 17 million people from the UK. Just because they can.
The millions of people that visit the developing world are often prompted to start buying Fair Trade products when they return home, but it can overhaul how they travel as well. Instead of buying meals at recognisable chain restaurants, they might venture out to local eateries run by villagers. Instead of buying mass-produced trinkets, they might buy something from a small stand or store - and in doing so enable the seller’s family to eat comfortably that night.
The more we travel - and currently we’re moving around the UK and then heading to Nepal to meet some more artisans and get some new projects underway - the more it becomes apparent that travel plays a key part in waking people’s social conscience.
When we travel to developing countries - to places like Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, India, Nepal, and many parts of South America - we realise just how very, very privileged we are. How the fluke of birth blessed us.
But travel shows us much more than the hardship and poverty of parts of the developing world.
We experience the deep richness of other cultures, and see, learn and do things that completely revolutionise our view of the world.
The vast differences in perspective can be mind-boggling, but also some of the greatest triggers to personal growth. Travel also helps us to shed the baggage - both literal and figurative - that we carry around with us. It frees us from needing the safety blanket of ‘stuff’, and can reveal a heap of limiting beliefs we’ve picked up along the way.
It’s why when we travel, we always try to take the Fair Trade ethos with us. The basis of Fair travel is to have a respectful and equally beneficial exchange wherever you go.
This means being mindful and respectful of the cultural norms and expectations of the places you visit, while still bringing your interesting and educational cultural patterns to your exchanges with local people. It means that your travel experience grows you and the people you meet. It’s what Fair Trade is all about.