Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How do Fair Trade Retailers Adhere to our Shared Principles?

In June, I added a blog post, "Our Values, Our Fair Trade Principles", and from this post I have had several comments from multiple perspectives. With the goal of making issues faced in Fair Trade transparent, I have decided to make room for commentaries from producers, retailers, networks, and advocates by providing space for continuing a discussion that I believe desperately needs to occur. As you read this and feel you have something to contribute, I fully encourage your contribution in the comments below.

When we look at Fair Trade as a global system, on one end you have Producers of Fair Trade products that are closely scrutinized in their adherence to the principles of Fair Trade in the various certification systems. However, there remains a question of Fair Trade retailers - how are they adhering to our principles? In particular is the question about the large Fair Trade chains, are they in the words of one Fair Trader, simply becoming "an outlet for exclusive WFTO products"? Several times the question came up about Fair Trade retailers and importers not necessarily being held accountable to Fair Trade Producers.

Indochine Natural, an all-natural soap producer, established by Dr. Mike Thair and his wife, Linh are in the process of becoming a WFTO-Asia member. I met with them on this Journey and witnessed firsthand how they put Fair Trade principles into their everyday practices. In the post on Values and Principles he made a few observations worth noting here: 

While there is a lot of focus on Producers and their adoption of these principles, what about the retailers themselves? Are they offering employment opportunities for the disadvantaged in their own communities and capacity building? Is there adequate transparency with customers on retail pricing? 

I would like to see these Principles applied across the entire Fair Trade supply chain. OK, the retailers are providing outlets for Fair Trade products, but I think it needs to be more than this.

Retailer, Playing Fair, added to this comment concerning their role as a retailer and the role of the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand (FTAANZ):

I'll second what Indochine Natural said. As a retailer there is more to the business than just being an outlet for exclusive WFTO endorsed products. What about the role I play in the local collective, or the info I send out about FTAANZ with each order? I really need to sit down and make these part of a mission statement, so that they are properly accounted for and in the forefront of my mind as I go about the daily business.

Jose, a Fair Trade advocate in Spain, wrote his perception on this issue:

I must say that I would also LOVE to see these Principles applied across the ENTIRE Fair Trade supply chain.

I believe the whole Fair Trade chain and consumers should be more aware of ALL conditions and demand more transparency and commitment to FT principles "here and there". 

From my own experience as a volunteer in PeaceCraft, a Fair Trade retailer in the US, I knew there were some really outstanding retailers that held themselves accountable to Fair Trade Principles and actively promoted local Fair Trade Movements whether they were student initiatives on campus or a citizens movement for trade justice. Some retailers have committed to expanding Fair Trade locally not just in terms of sales and awareness raising, but by supporting local disadvantaged communities as well. 

However, in other cases there is a sense that a Fair Trade retailer is little different from any other retail shop. Essentially they simply use Fair Trade as a marketing ploy to increase sales to the socially conscious and do little more than that. These retailers are easy to spot, you can walk in and see the colorful displays with an array of beautiful uniquely cultural crafts, coffees and chocolates, but not much else:
    • No information about Fair Trade or about producers who made the crafts (See Principle 3: Trading Practices) 
    • There is little connection between the shop and the major issues Fair Trade engages with such as addressing global trade injustice, or empowering women with income generating activities promoting their cultural heritage (See Principle 1: Creating Opportunities for Disadvantaged Communities; and Principle 6: Commitment to Non Discrimination, Gender Equity and Freedom of Association) 
    • No ongoing Shop-Based Advocacy, little-to-no information on how to get involved in the global Fair Trade movement, and no mention of Fair Trade initiatives or events in the community (See Principle 9: Promotion of Fair Trade) 
    • No price breakdown for customers to see the percentage of the sale as a product moved through the supply chain describing what percentage of the sale goes to the producer, to the shipping and handling, and to the store itself to cover overhead and staff (See Principle 2: Transparency and Accountability, and Principle 4: Payment of a Fair Price)  
    • No information on how they contribute to the development of Fair Trade Producer groups outside of sales (See Principle 8: Providing Capacity Building) 
    • Not disclosing information related to their impact on the environment (See Principle 10: Respect for the Environment) 
    • And in these nonchalant retailer shops, the staff are not even familiar with the ten principles of Fair Trade (Read: "Our Values, Our Fair Trade Principles")
    If you are a retailer reading this blog, or a socially conscious consumer and this description sounds like your local Fair Trade shop, I suggest it is time for a change! Even more so if your shop is a member of a chain of Fair Trade retailers... 

    Fair Trade Retailers have an obligation 
         to follow the same principles as the producers.

    With that said, I went in search of an example of a local Fair Trade shop and member of a Fair Trade chain dedicated to expanding Fair Trade locally by providing opportunities for a disadvantaged group in their community to enter Fair Trade. I owe a special thanks to Maryann Wohlwend, a Board Member of the Ten Thousand Villages store in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, USA, for her contribution to this long overdue blog post. Maryann is truly a Catalyst for Social Change in her community, bringing various social interests and businesses together for a common purpose! Her's is an inspirational story of commitment,  devotion, insight and reflection. For this reason I have reprinted her email in its entirety, and the emphasis placed throughout are her own:

    Hello Mitch~great to hear from you.  Excellent posting, as usual, and I am encouraged to read the comments of those who sincerely seek to make a difference and discuss these issues... My work for both, Lydia's Purse International & as a regional Board Member for a Ten Thousand Villages store in Cleveland Hts, Ohio allows me to see both sides of these coins.  

    I had considered shipping myself, working with groups in the Philippines and India (for LPI), and have concluded that it is best for small producers to start by selling within their local markets. When I considered the impact of these small groups being truly self-sustaining, I discovered how powerfully they can take the lead in strengthening their communities! Their retail presence introduces customers to the need ~ they have the opportunity to communicate & educate consumers on FT principles ~ when the consumer has been engaged, they can be invited to participate in the solution as a customer or a volunteer of the producing organization, or as a donor to supply needs, network on their behalf & meet long term goals for the organization. 

    Working within my own local community, Lydia's Purse International's presence in NorthEast Ohio is accomplishing just this!  Our mission is to Empower Women of Excellence ~ "Sewing Handbags & Sowing Hearts".  We believe that when a woman comes to know her True Worth & Great Value as a child of God, and is provided an opportunity WITHIN COMMUNITY to quickly learn a new confidence-building skill~and this is most important ~ ENCOURAGED & having FUN alongside a volunteer who is sharing the process WITH her, not lording authority over her, a woman passing through a rescue mission has a chance to break the cycle of generational poverty!  It is truly a mustard seed of Global Change!!

    You see, within the past 18 months, since sharing the Vision of Lydia's Purse International (via word of mouth, blog, a simple marketing trifold & selling handbags), we have received mountains of donated fabrics from the Ohio Design Center Showrooms, as well as other area fabric & furniture stores, seamstresses & ZERO Landfill organization.  The ladies who work in these interior design showrooms will go so far as to rescue discarded swatches from their dumpsters ~ to provide for the local Lydia's Purse class & keep them from mounding area landfills!!  

    Along this supply chain, we have educated and engaged retired sewing teachers & area philanthropists to beFRIEND and encourage the Participants, as Volunteers in the classroom ~ and beyond!  These volunteers are so inspired by the Vision that some continue the friendships when the Participants have graduated from the rescue mission, or they have brought donors to our door, providing brand new sewing machines and resources to operate the class and send Level III graduates off with brand new sewing machines of their very own!!  

    Participants who are in the long term care of the rescue mission offer to make handbags (from the rescued & rePURPOSEd design swatch fabrics) for inventory sales (which raises extra operating funds) while they continue to make friends and receive deeper discipleship training.  Volunteers, rescue mission staff, even I am still making handbags to contribute to sales.  

    Our collections have found a niche in area independent FT stores, produce markets, home parties & coffee shop sales events.  Even the rescue mission is able to host sales events for staff & the public, as all sales are handled by my company, MaryannDesigns, ltd.  My company then retains a small percentage of profits (toward operating costs & expenses), while donating the greater portion back to the non-profit rescue mission, which hosts the class and provides the inventory. One local, well-established market, even donates the space we use to sell handbags and share the Vision, without requiring any repayment in return, its owner simply wanted to use his business in a generous & responsible way!!

    In the past 18 months, the branches of our little tree have sprouted and Lydia's Purse International has sold hundreds of bags ~ each reflecting the story of a Woman who was discarded by society & discovered a new purpose and HOPE ~ the perfect metaphor for the handbags they are creating!  Even the pattern's 4 panel design reflects the Vision of Empowerment within community: 4 unique fabrics, representing women from different facets of Life, coming together to form a beautiful & functional commUNITY!!

    In my former business, MaryannBags, ltd, I created one of a kind silk handbags, priced to compete with other brand-recognized items of "quality".  When we first started selling the collections of Lydia's Purse International, I priced the handbags a little higher than the market for competing FT items... only to realize that the Vision, which the bags represent, is Priceless (and frankly, we weren't selling too many)!!  My own way of thinking about quality vs quantity was transformed, and we established a new retail price (which was a bit lower than the original wholesale cost).  The new retail prices, $12 for an extra large MarketBAG and $10 for a medium ShopTOTE, now attract customers who, when they learn about the Vision, will often purchase for themselves, family, friends & as meaningful gifts ~ and also, because we have not "dictated" the items' great Value by overpricing, some customers donate monies above and beyond their receipt, to support the Vision, Mission & Women of Lydia's Purse International!!  

    As a current Board Member of our local Ten Thousand Villages store, also, I have no misgiving about their Mission to only support & sell the products of select Global artisan groups, sharing their stories in North American markets.  Yes, they are a large, well-established FT retailer now, and were a leader 60 years ago, when founded, simply, by a woman on a missions trip with a Vision.  

    There's a place for all of us who have a desire to "Be the Change we want to See".

    As a little girl who dreamed of seeing the world, I could never have imagined that my path would lead through a meadow on the French Alps, overlooking the City of Geneva ~ praying for the nations of the World... to dusty, rural villages in southeast India ~ listening to stories of young widowed mothers hoping for a better the 1st Lydia's Purse class a half hour away from home ~ seeing smiles begin to form on the faces of women who have just learned to sew...and replying to an email request for a new class in Morogoro, Tanzania ~ to empower Swahili women who are quite literally dying for lack of HOPE!

    One of the foundational verses for Lydia's Purse International is found in the Heart of God, written by Paul in a letter to Corinth, and handed down for generations of those who support the value of all.  1Corinthians 1:26-29 "Brothers & Sisters, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him."

    The greatest commandment we have been given to live by is to Love our Neighbors as we Love ourselves.  Each person has seeds of education & experience to sow, resources to refresh others or the light of compassion to cheer those in need.  There is UNITY in commUNITY, and a self-sustaining mission can truly strengthen a local region...and inspire Change in the Global Economy!

    Are you Blooming where you are planted?

    Mitch ~ this was meant to be a simple reply that grew and grew into an overdue blog post!!

    Please feel free to contact me!!
    I look forward to hearing from you,
    Maryann Wohlwend

    Maryann's commitment to localizing Fair Trade in her community is exemplary. Honestly, if Fair Trade is to be relevant in every community where a retailer exists, there needs to be a similar effort to provide opportunities beyond simply offering socially conscious purchases and feeling good about it. Fair Trade Retailers have an obligation to follow the same principles as the producers.

    What struck me most about her story was how she was able to connect interest groups such as Zero Landfill and local businesses that embrace social responsibility such as the Ohio Design Center Showrooms. Furthermore, she found outlets for sales in independent Fair Trade shops, local produce markets, home-based activities, coffee shops, and one marketplace which donates space for selling and sharing the vision of Lydia's Purse.

    Back to the Fair Trade retailers... in February I wrote a blog post, Catalysts for Social Change. In that post I included a Fair Trade Advocacy Matrix which I have added here. This matrix is useful for initiating or reinvigorating a Fair Trade Awareness Campaign in your community regardless of where you reside. The purpose is to begin brainstorming on how Fair Trade can become a reality in your community by raising awareness through Shop-Based Advocacy, in religious institutions, with social networks, amongst students, on campuses and to mobilize activists. 

    Fair Trade Advocacy Matrix, Mitch Teberg, MA, 2011

    Fair Trade retailers are essential to the equation and how they integrate the principles of Fair Trade is important to the Movement as a whole. Our efforts to Make Trade Fair can begin by reviewing the current practices and activities of our retailers and identifying areas for improvement.

    If you have a story you want to share on how your store is central to an advocacy campaign; promoting Fair Trade through ongoing creative cultural activities; or involving community organizations in the movement, feel free to share it in the commentary below. 

    Special thanks to Dr. Mike Thair of Indochine Natural in Malaysia, Nadiah from Playing Fair (Australia), Jose of Spain, and Maryann Wohlwend of Ten Thousand Villages / Lydia's Purse in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, USA.

    Chou, I and Little Journey thank you for joining us in our ongoing Journey for Fair Trade now based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Feel free to leave comments, thoughts and ideas below! 

    Mitch Teberg, MA 

    The commentary below is terrific and brings up important points, please read and add your thoughts and experiences!  A few additional points: 
    1. As requested, I have placed this post and discussion into a downloadable PDF file for easy reading in black and white. I may do this for other posts as well if the demand is there. Let me know your thoughts.
    2. Word limit on commentary is set by Blogger (Google), feel free to add more than one comment - this is a very important discussion that needs to be aired! If you are a user, log in, that entitles you to longer commentary too.
    3. If your comment disappears when you post it, it may have gone into Spam box. If that is the case, I will retrieve it and post it. 
    4. Feel free to leave your name, organization and links to your organization in the commentary!

    To read this blog post in B&W on PDF:
    How Do Fair Trade Retailers Adhere to Our Shared Principles

    Sunday, July 10, 2011

    WFTO - To Create a Vision for Fair Trade

    For Fair Trade to be successful as a global movement there needs to be a clear and comprehensive vision. To create that vision begins with a reflection on hard lessons learned in the Global Recession of 2007-08.

    I invite you to contribute to the development of this truly global vision:

    Mitch Teberg, MA

    For a downloadable PDF version of the article:
    To Create a Vision for Fair Trade

    Saturday, July 2, 2011

    A Little Journey makes his Debut

    This is a blog post about Fair Trade; 
         a post about the present and the future, 
    about clarity and vision, 
         about sanctity and value, 
    about people and planet; 
         this post is about hope for the future.

    Our Little Journey on his first day in the world

    Chou and I have joyous news of our own to announce from our Journey for Fair Trade. On the sunny afternoon of Saturday, July 2nd, 2011, in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, our newborn son joined us fresh from the beauty of a nine-month creation. For Chou and I, the birth of our Little Journey is nothing short of a miracle; he is the beauty of innocence and hope wrapped tightly in a bundle. We know the values we will teach; the appreciation of life we will share; and the principles we impart upon him will impact an entire generation. 

    Our hope for the future of our shared planet is in the Fair Trade Movement. By this we mean that we hope Fair Trade will do more than create a small percentage of conscientious consumers and impact a few cooperatives in distant nations. Our vision for Fair Trade is a vision for the future; we believe that through Fair Trade a world can be awakened to the values of sustainability, equity, and diversity on a shared planet. 

    We hope that our efforts can bring positive direction and change to the concept of Business as Usual; that exploitation of children will become a thing of the past, labor rights will be respected as a paradigm of human achievement, and environmental sustainability will surpass short term gains as the milestone of corporate success. Our hope is for a world committed to the principles of Fair Trade, open and transparent, and based on respect for human rights. We envision a world where Little Journey's right to play, education, healthcare and safety is universally embraced and gender equity is a human condition.

    And above all, we want to be part of the movement to make this vision a reality. 

    Our first family photo of our Journey together

    Thank you for joining us on our Journey for Fair Trade, and feel free to join us for more "first photos" on facebook.

    Mitch, Chou, and Little Journey.