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")
Fair Trade Retailers have an obligation
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:
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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