Just what is fair trade and how does it differ from ethical trade? If a craftsperson or artist in my local town makes their own products, is that fair trade since they are a small, local person supporting themselves?
First, let’s tackle Ethical Trade since that is the larger category. Ethical trade is a product or service which is done as transparently and fairly as possible. A local dairy farmer who avoids all hormones, who cares well for his cows, who allows visitors to come and see how everything is done, who sells at a fair price, and who supports his local community would most definitely be engaging in ethical trade. He is doing his best to be a healthy part of his community and to have everyone support each other.
Similarly, if a woman made her own jewelry out of recycled bottles that she melted down in her kiln, and sold that jewelry at a fair price in order to promote peace and compassion, that would also be a lovely example of ethical trade. She would be supporting her dreams while helping others achieve theirs.
This is not necessarily FAIR trade, though. Fair Trade is a specific subset of ethical trade. It focuses on the groups which have notoriously been marginalized and brutalized by the industrial nations in the cause of “profit”.
The core of Fair Trade is that people in those impoverished places, especially those who normally would get sucked into sweatshop (or worse) situations, have a fair alternatives to feed and clothe themselves. Fair Trade is about supporting women in Bangladesh. Monks in Nepal. Families in Ghana. It’s about places where, in the past, corporations would come in and squash the locals, having them work in horrific conditions for barely any pay. Fair Trade gives those groups an option.
With Fair Trade, traditional crafts are supported and encouraged. A living wage is paid so that people can be fed and sheltered. People are treated with respect. They have a say in the future of their projects.
In addition, Fair Trade also has the connotation of providing a community network. Health care. Education. Loans to get people started. And a commitment NOT to use child labor in the production.
So it is noble and wonderful for members of the United States, the UK, or other developed nations to create ethical products. One would hope that all of us would do that. But those products are not Fair Trade.
Fair Trade are for those who can only dream about having an education. Who perhaps live in a culture where women are not allowed to go to school or to work outside the home. Who face struggles we might not even imagine.
Support Fair Trade. Every human deserves the chance to take that step forward.
Rights to rainbow hands image purchased by me from DepositPhotos / artist Marko Poplasen