Mitch Teberg, MA
Saturday, December 4, 2010
The Second Journey for Fair Trade
I am preparing to conduct a 5-7 month research to write a book on Fair Trade. My purpose is to give voice to the producers, craftswomen and men, artisans and farmers producing Fair Trade products. I have reviewed the current literature on Fair Trade in recent years and I feel there is an important element missing. The Fair Trade movement in the West itself has been well documented, as has the theoretical debates surrounding globalization, neo-liberal economics, etc which have been published by leading economists and others knowledgeable in the field. There are Fair Trade impact studies by development organizations and specialists, and Fair Trade ethnologies documented by anthropologists.
However, I am researching to write a publication that centers on the people and the co-operatives / producer groups in which their lives are entwined; to see Fair Trade from their view point, to capture their story; their narrative.
I found that Fair Trade is comparable to a prism hung in a country kitchen window sending rays of light in a multitude of directions to splash a rainbow of color across the room. Despite having the same origin point, each reflection has a unique size and shape. Fair Trade does the same. When you examine the prism from the West the flat surfaces represent the principles and standards of Fair Trade and depending on what angle you hold the prism, you can focus on one particular issue. A focus can be on areas such as to provide a living wage at the local level free from exploitation; to promote environmental sustainability and longevity through a commitment to organic farming; the empowerment of women and enhancing gender equality through inclusion in decision making processes and equal pay for equal work; to encourage transparency with trade partners and fair dealing when resourcing materials and supplies for the production of crafts; to support grassroots community development projects or social support programs; the enhancement of cultural traditions and crafts in an era of technological gadgetry and rapid urbanization, and so on. All surfaces are equally important.
In 2005, I committed a year to researching the trade partners of PeaceCraft, a member of the World Fair Trade Organization and the US Fair Trade Federation. I took my savings, loaded a backpack for a year of travel and headed to SE Asia to meet directly with PeaceCraft's trade partners. In my research I found that when one views the same prism of ideals from the their outlook, Fair Trade looks much like the beautiful spectrum of colors in various shapes and sizes splashed around the room. No two reflected areas are alike despite having the same point of reference. I found that organizations, cooperatives and producer groups work together and benefit in ways that differ from each other according to their particular community needs. Contributing factors to a Fair Trade Organization’s uniqueness begins with its origin. As it develops, the influence of predominant social stuctures and sub-cultures in which they operate, along with the personalities within the group, have a combined effect.
Each Fair Trade Organization is unique, and this is the main theme I propose to follow up on in my research. In this second journey, my inquiry is simple: How do the producers, farmers, weavers, artisans, and craftswomen and men perceive Fair Trade and what is the impact it has on their lives?
My wonderful and adventurous partner Thuy Ha, and I will don our backpacks and commence our journey next week beginning with Reaching Out in Hoi An, Vietnam, staying with them for a period of a week, or however long it takes to get a good feel for their voices through meetings, recording stories, photographing, learning perceptions, then blogging and writing. From here we head to Cambodia. This blog is to document our journey as we travel across SE Asia listening to the stories and perceptions of those who produce Fair Trade products, from coffee and tea, to handicrafts and textiles.
During this Journey for Fair Trade I will contribute stories to the Fair Trade Resource Network newsletter as a way to lift the voices of producers, artisans, craftswomen and men, and small scale local farmers. I am hopeful that in the process of my travels you will have an increased awareness as to why Fair Trade is so important. I am doing this research to present the voice of those people who make fairly traded products so you can see how your purchases really do make an important difference in so many lives.
Mitch Teberg, MA
Thank you for joining me in this journey. Feel free to follow this blog and to add your comments, ideas or suggestions as we go.
Mitch Teberg, MA