In Orlando we have multiple extremely active groups whose purpose is solely to feed and help the homeless. Why is that? I think the answer is obvious: it’s because we see hungry and mistreated people all over Orlando. It’s in our faces every time we go down town or to the park. This is where we live, and naturally we take ownership of what is going on in our own city.
That is the problem with the concept of fair trade. All we see are “American” brands and low prices. We can’t see the malnourished children working in sweat shops making the clothing we just bought at the mall. This is because they are thousands of miles away, and even farther outside of our awareness of issues relevant to our lives.
Today we live in a global society because of the internet and global trade. We can’t continue to focus only on our city, our state, and our country. We must have a global perspective. The alternative, which is the current reality, is to continue to force the most marginalized in the world into even deeper levels of poverty so that we can have the luxury of low prices.
Our focus in The Fair Trade Project is to turn our global society into a global neighborhood. If instead of “Made in China” our t-shirt label read “Made in Jiangxi, China by Mei Huáng 黃, age 9, who works 12 hours a day receiving 15 cents per hour”, we would feel a personal responsibility and an emotion connection to Mei like we do towards those living in our actual neighborhoods. When we picked up that shirt and read that label we would suddenly consider more than the price and color of it.
Everyday that we chose to continue to support massive corporations who oppress workers and producers in third world countries, the need for a fair option grows stronger. The urgent need for a change in our values grows even more dire.
At this point fair trade certified products are somewhat limited. Most products that can be bought fair trade are coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas, house hold decorations, shoes (limited varieties), and some clothing. As the demand for fair trade standards grows, the more companies will offer. Supply follows demand. We need to make a statement with our consumerism.
We in The Fair Trade Project are not just seeking to raise awareness about fair trade, but we’re also asking you to take ownership of this movement. We are simply asking you to buy fair trade when it is available. Meaning when you buy coffee, or other products that are available with a fair trade option, you only buy fair trade. It’s time to upgrade our values and expectations when shopping. We don’t just want affordable or organic; we want to know that when we buy coffee, our purchase doesn’t support a system that rips off small farmers who can’t feed their families.
We would also encourage you to buy local when possible, since so many products aren’t certified fair trade at this point. Buy your food from local farmers (not farmers markets that actually sell you produce from Nepal!). Orlando’s Homegrown Co-op and the Audubon Market are both great options (actually the only options) for buying local. When you buy clothing, buy from companies that produce their clothing in the United States like American Apparel.
Please join us in the fair trade movement to end sweatshop labor and the oppression of the poor. Please shop fair. The alternative is thievery. Let’s stop supporting a system that robs people of fair wages, safe working conditions, and quality of life.