So, today’s blog post was assigned for my class.
The topic: fair trade.
Q1: Where did you have to look to find fair trade items?
My search started with Google, first stop: Wikipedia.
According to the site, big organizations like Fairtrade International and Fair Trade USA certify products as “fair trade.” The following quote really stood out to me, so I’m going to use the fancy blog quote function here:
“Packers in developed countries pay a fee to The Fairtrade Foundation for the right to use the brand and logo, and nearly all the fee goes to marketing. Packers and retailers can charge as much as they want for the coffee.”
Sooo, if you want to be labled fair trade you have to buy the right, even if you actually are fair trade, without the label? And they can charge whatever they want. I feel that this essentially ensures only people who are more comfortable in the wealth department can purchase fair trade goods and feel morally superior (costs are passed onto the consumers, I’m sure).
Additionally “no universally accepted definition of ‘fair trade’ exists,” but the general idea is that “fair trade” products pay a higher price to exporters and advocate higher social and environmental standards, specifically in regard to exports from developing countries to devolved countries.
Common fair trade items include coffee, cocoa (and thus chocolate), textiles, “handicrafts” and things like diamonds and gold.
Q2: How easy was it to locate the products?
Well, you can google it, for starters. The Wikipedia page said Starbucks offers some fair trade coffee, Ben & Jerry’s in uses some fair trade chocolate, and American Apparel makes fair trade clothing. Some fair trade products re used by Sara Lee, Proctor & Gamble (Folgers coffee makers), Nestle, and The Hershey Company (through a brand they purchased: Dagoba). Much of these brands and companies only use a small amount of fair trade practice (the wiki said Starbucks is “only 3% fair trade”).
If you go to the Fair Trade USA and click on the tab “Products & Partners,” you can search a list of licensed partners and products offered by different companies. It’s really, really easy (go try it yourself if you’d like).
Q3: How expensive are fair trade compared to their counterparts and is the expense worth it?
This is the most difficult question of the four.
First of all, issues of class are blindingly apparent to me that I’m sure most people are going to overlook. I grew up poor, and my parents were too proud to use public assistance. So I understand the value of a dollar (as cliché as that sounds). A gallon of milk costs $3, which doesn’t seem like a lot, I’m sure, but my family often had to water it down to make it work.
I know I am still more privileged than the people that benefit from fair trade subsidies. I am aware of that. But I am upset that the people that are often incredulous about a reluctance to spend $5 or $10 dollars more on a shirt are people who don’t have to do things like water down their milk.
I think the idea of fair trade being “worth it” should really be considered from this perspective.
Is it worth it if you have enough money (as in, you have enough to pay your bills and still have a savings account), yes, it is.
As for actual average expense of an item compared to its non-fare trade counterpart, that is hard to say. Comparing like items and then averaging up the prices is no easy feat.
An article I found by a Fair trade business owner asked,
“Which would you purchase? A white shirt made in Indonesia selling for $14.99 with a ‘designer label’ or a white shirt made in Indonesia for $25 which has a fair trade designation? Why do you think there is such a discrepancy?”
If about $10 difference was the casual example used by a fair trade business owner, I’d say it’s a pretty common difference.
It’s honestly hard to find any real answer about the added expense because all the pro-fair trade sites won’t give direct numbers and seem to try to sweep the issue under the rug.
Q4: After learning more about globalization, how could you better imagine supporting both American women workers and women workers in the Global South?
If this question is meant to ask if I’ll buy fair trade products to support women in America and the Global south, the short answer is no. I am not convinced it actually helps people. International Journalist Andrew Chambers points out in his article Not so fair trade,
“Fairtrade reduces the incentive to diversify crop production and encourages the utilisation of resources on marginal land that could be better employed for other produce. The organisation also appears wedded to an image of a notional anti-modernist rural idyll. Farm units must remain small and family run, while modern farming techniques (mechanisation, economies of scale, pesticides, genetic modification etc) are sidelined or even actively discouraged.”
He goes on later to say,
“Coffee farms must not be more than 12 acres in size and they are not allowed to employ any full-time workers. This means that during harvest season migrant workers must be employed on short-term contracts. These rural poor are therefore expressly excluded from the stability of long-term employment by Fairtrade rules.”
Later in the article, he points out that Mexico has more fair trade producers than the poorest nations in the world that need more help.
Apparently, as I suspected earlier, the high price of these “fair trade” products doesn’t make it back to the producers. Chambers writes, “only about 5% of the Fairtrade sale price actually making it back to the farmers.”
Now, I’m sure this is even worse for non-fair trade products, but 5% is far less impactful than the perception of Fair Trade leads people to believe.
He also points out that adding value to products—doing things like roasting coffee or making chocolate out of cocoa beans—happens in the west, and is worth more than the raw products. Emphasizing farming in the Global South keeps it from moving into other industries that may help it gain more wealth.
I don’t think purchasing fair trade items helps women nearly as much as people think it does, and I think more needs to be done. I believe fair trade is more effectively a way for wealthy (mostly white) westerners to feel superior. Morally superior, because they think they’re helping the disadvantaged, and culturally superior or somehow cosmopolitan—because the “exotic” origins of products are emphasized (especially in the little shops of several college towns I’ve been to).
*Sigh* bummer topic…
Be back soon with another post!