What is Fair Trade?

Global Women's Project | Thu, Jan 24, 2002

By Center of Concern
"This article explains the concept of fair trade and its role in economic justice, in particular in supporting women producers."

What is Fair Trade? The fair trade movement in the USA began with a few organizations willing to give producers a fair price for their goods, practice ethical purchasing and marketing, ensure that production does not exploit people or the environment, and promote education and cultural exchange between the North and the South.For example, artisans in Guatemala purchase discarded glass from local factories and transform them into new pieces like sorbet dishes and glass pitchers. Years ago commercial merchants who purchased this glassware returned little of the final retail price to these artisans. By trading with fair trade organizations like Christian Cottage Imports,these artisans earn more income, allowing them to purchase a new oven, create safer working conditions and sponsor community projects.Coffee is the second most heavily traded product on the world market after oil. It is also a very difficult crop to grow and harvest, requiring large amounts of land and large labor forces. Under conventional trade a pound of coffee which is sold for almost $8 in the USA could bring only 80 cents to the Central American farmer who is grows it. As a result, many of the nearly 20 million people involved in growing coffee beans live in extreme poverty. Alternative trading organizations like Equal Exchange pay fair prices directly to farmers and encourage them to use environmentally sound growing practices.Fair Trade and WomenWomen are the majority of producers and consumers of fairly traded goods. When talking about fair trade, then, we need to highlight the roles that women play. Women are bread-winners, artisans, manufacturers, farmers, mothers, sisters, andfriends. In many parts of the world, women work 18-20 hour days with the double burden of working inside and outside of the home to care for their families. Women work longer hours than men in every countryof the world, yet their contributions at the home and at the workplace are often invisible. Women are under-represented and underpaid, comprising two thirds of the world's poor. To identify and to target women through alternative trade organizations is to work towards poverty eradication on a global scale.Although women's participation in both the formal and informal labor sectors has greatly increased this past decade, most women in the developing world can be found in the informal sector. Many of these women are heads of their households and support their families through small-scale production of crafts or subsistence farming based within the home or within the community. Because a large percentage of women lack access to land, natural resources, capital, credit and technology, they must work harder to help themselves and their families. Women often work together, easing their burdens by sharing in production costs, faith, friendship, community and tradition.Since the Fourth UN Conference on Women in Beijing, policies to offer credit and employment to women have been praised as a means to promote sustainable development. The Beijing Platform for Action calls on financial intermediaries, national training institutes, credit institutions, non-governmental organizations and the private sector to foster commercial links and to establish joint ventures among women entrepreneurs at the national, regional and international levels. This type of interaction not only supports community-based activity, but promotes gender equity and empowerment by giving women recognition and financial support for the work they have always doneand continue to do. It allows women's small businesses to have a niche in the world market, enabling women to ensure their families' survival. Helping women as well as men in fair trade campaigns is key to family survival and to sustainable development as a whole.Alternative Trade Empowering Women and MenARTISANS DUSOLEIL is a small organization that was founded to help young artisans in the cities of Benin find markets for their craftsmanship. Their producers are largely comprised of poor young single mothers, but include former street children and disabled persons unable to support themselves in their communities who moved to the city to find work. Members of ARTISANS receive small loans and training to improve their skills and to cover initial financial costs for supplies . Trade with ARTISANS DU SOLEIL has helped members provide for their families by selling their crafts, offering hope and dignity to those who were previously poor and alone with no prospects. PRESCRAFT, a mission project of the Presbyterian Church that began in the 1960's, works to preserve cultural heritage and economic empowerment in the rural areas of Cameroon. Men and women produce traditional handicrafts in their homes to sell through PRESCRAFT. This program helps subsistence farmers, of whom the majority are African women, maintain their farms, build their own homes, educate themselves and their children, and maintain their traditions. As a result of their interaction with PRESCRAFT, rural artisans do not have to move to the city and can thrive in their traditional rural setting.CANDLES OF HOPE is a cooperative program in North Carolina, United States that helps single mothers on public assistance to generate incomes for their families by hand rolling beeswax candles at their local church. While trade with this cooperative helps these women to become financially stable, it also stresses the good that comes from working in a community and with a spiritual framework.For further information on organizations that promote gender and fair trade, visit the Alternative Mall. For information on women and development, visit the Global Women's Project.Alternative trading organizations (ATOs) have been practicing fairtrade for over five decades. Fair trade is better than aid because it builds a sustainable future for producers and improves their quality of life. For more information about the Fair Trade Movement, see the International Federation for Alternative Trade , or contact the Fair Trade Federation.The organizations listed in our ""Alternative Mall"" are just a few of those practicing fair trade in the USA and Canada. To be sure you are purchasing products that have been fairly traded look for the fair trade seals.