Buying fair trade: A local way to help communities around the world

By Kaitlyn D'Ambrosio
January 30, 2018

Graphic by Kaitlyn D’Ambrosio

Fair trade is involved in the everyday lives of individuals and people may not even realize it. It is in the morning when people drink a hot cup of coffee to get themselves through the day. It is at the supermarket when grocery shopping for weekly meals. It is even at the mall when trying to pick out a new outfit.

Fair trade is a type of trade in which the producers in developing countries are paid fairly for their products.   

Media, Pa: America’s first fair trade town

According to Fair Trade Towns International, there are 2,014 fair trade towns in the world and 44 of those are in the U.S. In April of 2000, Garstang U.K. became the first fair trade town in the world. They are also a strong ally for Media, Pa. when Media wanted to become a fair trade town as well.

The Untours Foundation helped lead the way for Media, Pa., to become the first fair trade town in America after hearing about Garstang. The late owner of the travel company Untours, Hal Taussig, created the Untours Foundation to promote fair trade.

“My dear boss, Hal Taussig, suggested to me one day that we make Media a fair trade town,” Elizabeth Killough, director of the Untours Foundation, said. “I responded the only way in which I knew how: I laughed at him. I couldn’t imagine what that would look like.”

Killough searched fair trade towns on the internet and came across Garstang, U.K., the world’s first fair trade town.

Killough said, “I wrote to them. It was 11 o’clock their time and three minutes later they wrote back: ‘We’ve been waiting for someone in the U.S. to start the fair trade town movement.’”

In order to become a fair trade town, there are several steps to take. The town needs to work with local businesses, restaurants, stores and revenue producers and try to get them to agree to sell or use one or two fair trade products at their locations. They also must educate the people in their town about fair trade in order to engage the community in the efforts.

Bob McMahon, mayor of Media, said, “Explaining the concept is interesting to people and it grows on them. The more restaurants and the more retails that become familiar with fair trade, the more its going to grow.”

Fair trade is becoming more and more common in businesses and companies. Hershey’s has a goal to make the cocoa that they use in their chocolate 100 percent sustainable cocoa by 2020.

Earth and State owner Drew Arata sells handmade products, some of which are fair trade items. Some of the fair trade products include crafts, pottery, chocolate and soccer balls. Arata and his wife were involved in some of the activities that helped Media become a fair trade town.

Some of the pottery Arata sells in his store come from across the United States and Canada. They also work with co-operatives from India and Nepal, as well as co-operatives with Divine Chocolate, to ensure the cocoa in the chocolate they sell is fair trade.

“Selling fair trade products is easier with the nonprofit support that we have through having a committee committed to educating and promoting fair trade,” Arata said.

How fair trade helps people around the world

Fair trade helps support communities in developing countries by giving them an opportunity at a good economy and a way of living.

Fair trade Certified logo on a Soccer Ball from Earth and State. Photo by Kaitlyn D’Ambrosio.

“Fair trade is a form of trade that’s very transparent and takes the whole supply chain into account,” Killough said. “Especially the producers who are artisans and farmers. It not only guarantees them a fair price, it gives them other guarantees including that their children will go to school, that they will receive technical assistance that they can receive credit, that women can be apart of decision making.”

Cabrini University became a fair trade college in 2013. Catholic Relief Services Ambassadors from Cabrini continue to work and promote fair trade and fair trade products. The university offers fair trade food through their provider, Sodexo, and fair trade products in the bookstore.

Fair trade has numerous benefits to people around the world. It helps people in poverty by giving communities stable jobs and improves their local economy. By cutting out the middleman, it gives producers a chance to negotiate the prices for their own products.   

There is a social impact that fair trade leaves on communities. Fair trade farmers and workers receive a fair trade premium— money that can go towards the community. Thus, the fair trade premium can help improve education for kids or provide health care for its citizens.

Fair trade farmers also learn how to be environmentally friendly. They are trained how to combat climate change through their work. The fair trade standards for farming include not using GMOs or toxic pesticides in the crops.

Arata said, “Fair trade is, in its root, based on the concept that we want to make sure we know where our products are coming from, that the people who are producing the products are receiving a living wage, there’s minimal ecological impact on the environment and there’s opportunity for education.”

One small decision can make a big impact

Fair trade logo people can be aware of to shop for fair trade products. Photo by Kaitlyn DAmbrosio.

For a social movement like fair trade, it can be intimidating trying to think of a way to help people and communities in other countries; however, fair trade products are not hard to find at all. Trader Joe’s sells numerous fair trade products in their stores and online.

“Letting people know that it doesn’t involve a huge lifestyle change is super important,” Olivia McConnell, strategic communications major from Temple University and intern on the Fair Trade Committee in Media, said. “You can do basically everything. If you’re getting coffee or if you’re getting sugar, it’s all available as fair trade. You’re getting a higher quality ingredient and you know that you’re helping other people in the process.”

Common fair trade products include coffee, cocoa, tea, sugar and bananas. The products will have fair trade certified logos on the products to ensure that the producer of the product is getting their share.

Educating people is also a crucial part of spreading awareness on fair trade. In Media, they are teaching children about fair trade as young as fourth grade.

“Each year, more stores and restaurants use fair trade products and probably our biggest success is educating the children in the schools,” Killough said.

The children engage in activities, such as role-playing, to show them the difference between fair trade farmers, non-fair trade farmers and how they are treated.

“The steps you take to educate people on fair trade is just ask them to try it,” McMahon said. “Go to one of our restaurants, go to one of our establishments, purchase and try it.”

“Its an uphill battle to educate people on what fair trade is and why its important,” Arata said. “In Europe, people have been much more aware of for a lot longer.”

Cabrini University’s CRS Ambassadors work on educating the school on fair trade and sells fair trade products during the holiday season. 

“The main thing is letting people know that we can feel good about our products,” Arata said. “The long term effect to getting products that are made under questionable situations only allows that situation to continue.”

Videos by John Williams, Laura Sansom and Kaitlyn D’Ambrosio

Kaitlyn D'Ambrosio

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