Posted Thursday, October 7, 2010
We’ve all seen goods on store shelves that claim to be the product of ‘fair trade.’ Among other things, this means the goods weren’t produced in sweatshops, the producers are making a decent wage and the goods are produced in an environmentally-friendly way. But are consumers getting good value when they buy fair-traded items? What if those items cost more than similar goods; what's the value in that? We'll examine the fair trade market in Northeast Ohio and discuss whether fair trade is an ideal worth pursuing, tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. on the Sound of Ideas.
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I first learned about Fair Trade by living in the mountains and coffee country of El Salvador as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Guaranteeing a fair crop price for uneducated third-world farmers is one of the best ways to see that those people are able to provide for their families on the little land that they have. Many of those people have no chance at a factory or white collar job. This also allows Fair Trade buyers to promote “organic” means of coffee and chocolate cultivation, when otherwise there would be very little opportunity to justify such methods to the farmers. I only buy Fair Trade coffee now because I know first-hand that it is helping people make their lives better in an environmentally sustainable way!
When doing price comparisons of Fair Trade products like coffee and chocolate, consider the taste. For $5-$8 a pound you can buy Equal Exchange coffee that tastes worlds better than your average Folgers or Maxwell House. You really are getting BETTER product for not that much more money! The big companies mix all coffee and cocoa beans and the taste is bland. Small farmers who hand pick the good beans give their products a superior taste. You will not be disappointed in the taste of these products!
Ladies: what would you say to carrying LOCALLY MADE fair trade merchandise? I am working with a group of weavers from Bhutan to create a Refugee Artisan Co-Op so they can actually be more economically independent.
You can read a little about our group here: http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2010/08/on_forgotten_looms_immigrant_w.html
Our big challenge right now is not the production of wonderful goods, but the selling of them. We need help in that area!! Another challenge that has faced us is the fact that these women need an income that is much higher than their counterparts back in Asia. Now that they live in the U.S. their cost of living is significantly higher, and therefore their products must reflect their economic needs when we price them. I would value some insight from you.
Re: the perception that Fair Trade goods are luxury goods.
As the guests said this is only sometimes true. For example bananas are a staple food (the most popular fruit in the US by far) and at Equal Exchange we’re already importing millions of organic, Fair Trade bananas each year for distribution in the Upper Mid-West, the mid-Atlantic States and the Southwest.
And while coffee is not essential like bread most consider it a staple, too. 60% of Americans drink coffee everyday. And Fair Trade organic coffee can be bought for about $10/lb (more or less depending upon many variables).
At that price it costs only 20 cents per serving and is still one of the most affordable beverages you can get besides tap water or Kool-Aid.
And for a high quality product it remains a bargain by any measure. Try getting a really good beer or wine, or even glass of fresh OJ, for 20 cents.
Only cheap, mass production coffee (Folgers, Maxwell House) or cheap tea (Lipton, Red Rose) will be consistently cheaper.
The cost per serving for Fair Trade coffee is usually comparable or lower than brand name high fructose-laden soft drinks, and is often much lower than bottled water, fruit juice, milk, soymilk, or any alcoholic beverage.
As a local fair trade retailer I was very excited to hear this piece on Fair Trade and to hear two fellow Ohio Fair Trade Diva’s representing this amazing industry in Ohio. One of the biggest concerns that I heard on this program and have also heard in our shop is the concept of “What about us?"meaning, “What about the US?” Being owned and operated by a local Akron church, First Grace United Church of Christ, we put most of our focus on community outreach so we also felt this concern. Our response was to set our fair trade store up so that any profit we do make from this business will roll directly into funding our community outreach programs. The biggest, but certainly not the only, being our food program in which we are now feeding over 3,000 local Akron people a month. We also work with Local Akron artists the most recent coming from our partnership with the Summit County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Our vision being that the more successful we are as a business = more successful artisans = more successful community. Our best attempt at 360 degrees of fairness.
Here’s an answer to the questions about supporting fair labor practices locally! Esperanza Threads trains and employs “women with barriers to employment on the westside of Cleveland” as a part of their Fair Trade mission. They produce and sell organic cotton clothing and other “eco” goods. They will be at the Expo and Market at JCU tomorrow. http://www.esperanzathreads.com
It is exciting to see this continued dialogue on Thursday’s show. I think many interesting perspectives were brought up on the show from the guests and callers. Saturday’s event at John Carroll University (the Ohio Fair Trade Expo) allowed people to learn more and ask further questions of all of our presenters. However, the dialogue and growth of the Ohio Fair Trade movement does not stop there - www.ohiofairtrade.com will continue to be a place where people can go to learn more about the growing movement throughout our state. In addition, there will be an organizing meeting on Saturday, October 23rd from 9:30 AM to 11:30 AM in room 202/203 of the Dolan Center at John Carroll University to discuss the development of a Northeast Ohio Fair Trade network that can support retailers and consumers committed to fair trade. Everyone in Northeast Ohio is invited to come join us. Feel free to RSVP or send questions regarding this meeting to Chris Kerr at John Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org.