Why fair trade matters

November 5th, 2015



Imagine with me for a second that you are someone entirely different from yourself. Shed your western socialization and envision that you were not born into the community that you were, but instead in a poverty-stricken pocket of the Dominican Republic.


In order to survive, you work impossibly long hours in a sweatshop for meager wages, all the while battling verbal, physical and, at times, sexual abuse.


Like so many in your country, you see little avenues for escape. In your community, your life is controlled by a handful of anti-union fat cats who hold most of the nation’s wealth, as well as millions people nationwide who support the brand you work for, without a single thought as to why your blood is on their hands.


Luckily, there is a solution to your needless suffering: fair trade.


For those of you that may not know what fair trade is, it is a social movement that aims to help producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions, better and more just wages, and to promote sustainability.


Unlike in purely capitalistic initiatives that aim solely to produce the most profit and not support people, fair trade ensures that farmers and workers are getting a just deal, that the funds that come from their labor is used for community development, and that the products are good for our earth. Sounds pretty good, right?


It gets better.


Each purchase improves lives. Your morning coffee could not just fuel your day, but help to build a medical clinic is North Africa.


A box of chocolates is not only a kind gesture, but helps fund reading classes for children across the world.


Despite the fact that most would agree that buying fairly traded products is a noble pursuit, as a young person, I have noticed that similar to domestic political issues, many of us assume that a single person couldn’t possibly make a legitimate impact on our global labor practices. That’s where you’re wrong, friends.


Last week, members of “Alta Gracia,” a fair trade apparel company stationed in the Dominican Republic, visited JCU to speak with students. It was clear to all in attendance that Alta Gracia was a pretty special place; with a longstanding tradition of supporting labor rights, creating jobs, paying a living wage and supporting the educational opportunities of the families of the workers, Alta Gracia is unlike the rest of the self proclaimed “socially responsible” brands that don’t always follow through.


What is sincerely special about Alta Gracia is that they pay a living wage to all workers. It creates the income necessary for a worker to meet all of their family’s basic needs.


In addition to fair salaries, Alta Gracia respects the basic human rights of their workers, which includes the right to a safe and healthy workplace, the right to be treated with dignity on the job, as well as the right to form a union.


I know what you’re thinking: Mary Frances, you still haven’t gotten to how this involves me.


Let me tell you.


Luckily  for us, Alta Gracia’s demographic audience for their clothing is college and high school campus, seeing as they specialize in “collegiate branded products.”


In our bookstore, we feature a few new products from Alta Gracia, which is an exciting departure from the rest of the unethically created products we sell.


As a newly-minted “fair trade institution,” we must uphold our promise to value the dignity of workers and the care of our earth when choosing what products to buy.


So, if you’re reading this and are a member of a student organization or Greek chapter, I suggest that your next T-shirt order be fair trade.


If you’re a committed Starbucks lover, ask if any of their roasts are fairly traded, or better yet, start buying your coffee from known fair trade institutions such as Peet’s or Equal Exchange.


Like anything, substantial global change sure as heck won’t happen overnight. Contrary to the naysayers, a more ethical tomorrow begins with you.