Fair trade stuff costs more… is that fair?

Its funny how things come to your awareness… You may have never really thought of something ever before, then all of a sudden it’s everywhere you look. I like to call this the ‘Yellow Laser’ thing – back in high school when we were all getting our first cars, one of my mates got a bright yellow Ford Laser… I’d never seen anything like it before, but once it was on the mind, I seemed to see so many yellow Ford Lasers cruising around! Either they were giving them away, or my mind was just locked into the awareness of ‘yellow laser’, so something triggered when I saw one!

Ford Laser

My current ‘Yellow Laser’ is about the source of stuff – I’ve been challenged to think about where the things I own or buy come from, and also how it is made – as a general concept I suppose you could call this ‘fair trade’ (though from what I can gather, the issue is potentially much bigger than what some would define fair trade as).

So a good mate was recently telling me about a great idea regarding school uniforms. Without giving too much away, it involves looking at the sourcing and manufacture of school uniforms. At the time I didn’t think too much of it… Was just another of his many good ideas (he’s an ideas man!).

Not long after this, I was reading ‘The Story of Our Stuff’ article in Relevant Magazine. Great article about ‘bridging the divide between producer and consumer’ which provides some great insight and challenges as to where our stuff comes from and more importantly how it is made, and by whom.

The ‘Yellow Laser’ kicked in, and suddenly I was thinking all about our stuff and the impact we can have by making informed decisions about what and where we buy things. To be honest, I’ve really been quite complacent and apathetic about fair trade and the like… Its never been something I’ve been passionate about, ignorantly thinking it’s more of an environmental or greenie issue… As opposed to a more global and humanitarian issue.

A job at a sweatshop… rarely does more than keep people just on the edge of extreme poverty

You often hear about the sweat shops and chinese labour factories with poor working conditions, long hours and low wages, but where the penny started to drop for me was when I read about the child slavery, the trafficking, and the serious lack of options that flow on across generations causing inescapable poverty.

So a great question that Kelsey puts out there in the Relevant article, and I want to put forward again, is what responsibility do we have as consumers? We all buy stuff everyday… Whether it be food, clothes, electronics or whatever… And they are all made somewhere by someone – the choices we make about which brand or where we buy could potentially have a big impact on the lives of many people.

It may not be totally realistic to buy everything ‘fair trade’ or locally made, but I think if we, at the very least, take some time to look into the source of some of the regular or major things you buy…maybe like your favourite coffee, clothing brand or T-shirt label. If you knew that T-shirt on your back was made by a 13 year old girl who was forced to work countless hours a day in horrible conditions just to provide for her family… Would you still buy it? And would you consider paying a slight premium to know that another shirt was made in a legitimate business that paid and treated employees fairly?

a simple yet effective illustration of how our decision can affect the farmers.

I was glad to find out after a quick Google, that one of our favourite coffee brands, Danes, has an ethical and fair approach to producing their tasty little coffee beans – they call it ‘True Relationship Coffee‘. I’ll happily enjoy my next brew from our favourite local coffee shop knowing I’m helping some coffee grower make a genuine living as opposed to getting ripped off and living on the edge of poverty. I don’t even have to pay a premuim for this which is great, but paying a few extra dollars for something ‘fair trade’ really won’t break the bank for most of us rich western folk. So use your compartive wealth for something good, and you might just be helping a family break out of the cycle of poverty.

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