When I taught first grade, we started off the year teaching our students about their community and about how far our world reaches beyond our homes. We talked about families-neighborhoods-towns-cities-states-countries-world. We learned about how very big our world is, and yet how very connected we all are, and how our choices have a wide ripple effect.
The lessons of where our groceries come from, who they're sold by, how they got there and who they were grown by were "a-ha moments" for kids year after year. You could see on their faces the moment they understood that apples weren't grown in grocery stores.
The same principle and learning applies to the laws of Fair Trade.
The Fair Trade USA site says, "Fair Trade goods are just that. Fair. From far-away farms to your shopping cart, products that bear our logo come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated. We help farmers in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities. We're a nonprofit, but we don't do charity. Instead, we teach disadvantaged communities how to use the free market to their advantage. With Fair Trade USA, the money you spend on day-to-day goods can improve an entire community's day-to-day lives."
So what is Fair Trade?
The Fair Trade USA's tag line is: Quality Products. Improving Lives. Protecting the Planet.
Protecting the Planet.
Fair Trade is a certification that is given to foods that were grown and sold in a fair way. Fair takes on these three different meanings and it takes a rigorous process to get this branding. The criteria includes: Fair prices, no GMOs, no hazardous chemicals and no child labor.
Fair Trade promotes organic farming with training for farmers and by offering a higher price for organic products. Because fair trade farmers are getting paid more for their products, many invest this money in a better growing process and in creating a healthier farm environment. Fair Trade USA reports that last year nearly half of all Fair Trade Certified imports were also organic.
The Fair Trade USA site reports, "With the Fair Trade premium for community investment, farmers can spend more time and money on things like environmental education, training, quality testing and equipment efficiency."
One of the hardest things to teach, and to learn, is that work conditions aren't great for everyone. Fair Trade doesn't skirt around this issue, but rather steps into it, learns about it and takes methodical steps to help. The Fair Trade USA site says, "One of the most important aspects of Fair Trade is this: funds are specifically designated for social, economic and environmental development projects. However, we don't pretend to know what's best for each community. That's why we've enabled a democratic system where each community determines how their funds are used."
With education and financial support, workers are given the opportunity to build sustainable businesses, empower women, support education, fight poverty and provide health care.
So work conditions are monitored and opportunities are given.
Protecting the planet
Around the world, farmers who struggle to make a living are often forced to engage in agricultural practices that, of course, they'd rather not. When our budgets are strained we serve a few more noodles than we care to admit. Fair Trade USA reports that for farmers around the world, this constraint leads to choices forcing them to compromise their land and surrounding ecosystems, such as deforestation and erosion, use of harmful toxins and disposal of pollutants into the water supply.
To be a part of the solution, Fair Trade Certified ensures that farmers follow internationally monitored environmental standards, while empowering farmers and farm workers with financial incentives and resources for organic conversion, reforestation, water conservation and environmental education. The Fair Trade USA site says, "By establishing Fair Trade prices, farmers are able to practice sustainable growing techniques and are supported in learning new skills that will preserve their land for generations to come."
Some of the Fair Trade environmental impact includes standards for soil and water, biodiversity and carbon emissions, GMO's, agrochemicals and pests and waste.
How Fair Trade affects you
Buying Fair Trade does sometimes mean paying higher prices. As mothers, we often have to balance the messages that we send to our children about what's important with our own (in this case, financial) realities.
And this is the case here. Familiarize yourself with the Fair Trade label and the companies that are certified Fair Trade. Whenever possible, buy Fair Trade. Commit to changing over one product at a time. And most importantly talk to your children about the whys behind these choices. I wonder if they'd be willing to trade this cookie for that if they understood the impact that simple choice could make? My gut says the same thing that yours does: Of course they would.
The Fair Trade USA site has a one-sheet impact page that scrapes the meaning surface of the differences made by buying Fair Trade. As with anything that involves change, small steps and repeated conversations are key for your family's learning.
Differences you can make today
Fair Trade Certified has grown to encompass many products, from tea to chocolate to body care to wine. You'll be happy to know that some of your favorite brands are already Fair Trade certified, and as for the others… hopefully they'll come around soon!
The Fair Trade USA site lists their product partners on their site, so start by purchasing these brands more than others.
Also, search for the Fair Trade label when you shop and get talking and sharing what you're buying and why. The premise is as simple as this: Making your purchase matter. Each time you purchase a Fair Trade product you help support families and causes all over the world.