Thursday, January 20, 2011

Make it FAIR

Have you ever checked out the Fair Trade Federation or World Fair Trade Organization?

I hadn't before last week, and I am completely blown away! I'm researching these sites for my assignment to work on the Fair Trade page on the Global Mamas website. I'm 100% inspired by what hundreds of orgs are doing worldwide! What's more, some of the products produced are out-of-this-world cool. I love the do-it-yourself aesthetic, and making my own jewelry/clothes/etc. has always interested me... but there are somethings that I could never manufacture.

For example, take the bags from Escama

Or this recycled sari purse:

And I love these adorable ornaments:

And right in Madison, WI there's a business called Just Coffee. I've enjoyed their brew a time or two, but I never realized that what they're doing has some amazing impacts all over the world.

These organizations all began when someone had a good idea and decided to go about it in a way that honors the dignity of all human beings. That's a very simple concept, but in a world where companies and industries depend on the exploitation of disadvantaged people—Fair Trade becomes a bit more complicated. How do you manufacture responsibly-made products that compare to machine- and chemically-perfected ones? How do you convince consumers that the difference between 'sweat-free' and 'plain cotton-t' is worth the price difference? It seems to me that most advocates of Fair Trade take one of two routes. One consists of scare tactics—heart-breaking photos and documentaries of children in sweat shops and clear-cut forests. These are important facts for all of us to consider, and shocking material has a place in advocacy; however, in my opinion, the scare tactic should comprise less than a third of the promotion of Fair Trade. There are so many positive stories to tell that I think the focus should stay on what Fair Trade does do and why it should continue. Realistically, that's the information that I'm just learning now about Fair Trade.

Before I came to Ghana, when people asked why I was coming here I'd say, “I have an academic internship with a fair trade, non-profit* called Global Mamas. It's a microfinance organization that gives women small loans to start their own businesses, and then Global Mamas markets their handicrafts in the US and online.” I used the descriptor “fair trade” as a tack-on just for Accuracy's sake. I had no idea about the meaning behind those two words. For an organization to have true Fair Trade status with the Fair Trade Federation, it must be investigated and scrutinized and fulfill all of the FTF's nine Fair Trade principles. The World Fair Trade Organization also lists ten principles, (these mostly overlap with FTF's,) and there is a specific fair trade umbrella for Africa (the Cooperation of Fair Trade in Africa), and a Fair Trade org in Ghana must also adhere to certain guidelines (such as a minimum wage, etc.) In short, “Fair Trade” is not just a catchy slogan. Some of the principles include: creating opportunities for the economically disadvantaged or the socially marginalized; providing equal employment opportunities and opportunities for advancement; being transparent and accountable as an organization; building capacity for successful business; practicing environmental sustainability; and supporting empowering and culturally sensitive working conditions.

Here's an exciting story about fair trade. Liz Alig, a young woman from Indiana, left college with a passion for design and an interest in fair trade. It wasn't long before she decided to put the two together and start her own business. She designs high-fashion aesthetic apparel AND... everything is made of recycled clothing. I met Liz one week ago when she arrived in Ghana, and I've been so fortunate to spend time with such a fascinating entrepreneur. She's here for about three weeks to develop business relationships with a few seamstresses who are also a part of Global Mamas; she came to Global Mamas to find producers for her designs because GM is an org with a great reputation in the Fair Trade World. Liz's work is sold mostly at boutiques in the states and I HIGHLY encourage you to check out her designs at

If you want more information about the principles of fair trade, or even the products of fair trade, I seriously encourage you to check out the website for the Fair Trade Federation and for the World Fair Trade Organization. I had a blast searching the lists of what various Fair Trade organizations around the world have to offer. I don't want to be an advocate of rampant consumerism, but I will say this much: If you're going to buy, buy Fair!

*Just to be clear, Global Mamas is not a non-profit. It is an NGO in Ghana and all of the profits go back to the women business owners. Women in Progress (WIP)--the international volunteer organization that coordinates the volunteers and interns who work with Global Mamas—is a non-profit in the U.S. So I'm working with a non-profit and with a retail business!


  1. Liz, Thanks for the definitions and clarifications. The Fair Trade movement seems to illustrate another way that women's efforts and principles of sustainability coincide. I appreciate the links, too.

  2. Thanks for your descriptive explainations of the organization. I am so thankful for the connections you have made. Glad, also, that you are now at the volunteer housing facility. It will allow more exposure and sharing of ideas. I admire your tenacity!! I Love you!!