Fair trade is just that: fair. Its purpose is to produce quality products while protecting the planet and improving the lives of either workers or artisans by paying them fair wages. While Rising Tide Fair Trade (RTFT) focuses their fair trade support on accessories, fair trade is not just used in fashion, but also in many other industries like agriculture. The De La Gente coffee plantation is a fair trade cooperative coffee farm in Guatemala that improves the lives of its farmers through equitable compensation, just like RTFT does with its artisan partners.
This past summer my high school offered a group of Spanish language students the opportunity to travel to Guatemala to work on a fair trade coffee plantation. The De La Gente coffee plantation (in Spanish means "of the people") name is quite fitting for a company whose main goal is to provide the families that they work with the skills, knowledge, and tools that are necessary in order to create a sustainable, prosperous and lasting business and improve the quality of life for the farmers and their families. De La Gente works with their cooperatives directly to develop community-led strategies to promote economic development, direct trade and help these farmers become individual and profitable businessmen and businesswomen.
Despite the aesthetic beauty and perfect climate for growing world-class coffee, Guatemala is still considered one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Many of the farmers who have taken advantage of this large coffee producing industry live in poverty and many lack the means to pay for basic necessities like housing, nutrition, healthcare and education. This is why De La Gente has focused its efforts on Guatemala, to try and break this cycle of poverty.
I interviewed Michelle Salazar, who was a trip chaperone and serves as the Supervisor of World Languages at my school, to learn what it was like to volunteer on this coffee plantation. The students would become a part of the family by contributing to the everyday chores, usually completed by the children of the farmers. While the students and chaperones worked, many were getting to know the farmers and the struggles they have encountered. "They told us about how they were previously working with large coffee corporations, basically as workers and were unable to have any property of their own." One of the farmers working on the coffee plantation told Salazar that he was able to send his children abroad to college. These new opportunities that the farmers have show just how much the De La Gente coffee plantation has helped them become successful and independent.
Overall, the goal of the trip was accomplished: improve the students' Spanish and have them help farmers on a coffee plantation. The students, however, were able to experience and immerse themselves in a new culture while learning about fair trade coffee and its widespread benefits. Learning about the production side of fair trade was a testament to how important and powerful fair trade can be, not only for the individual farmers at De La Gente, but for Guatemala as a whole.
Sustainability is becoming increasingly popular in the fashion industry. Now that people are more aware that their purchases impact the environment and communities, consumers are opting for items that are handmade, organic, fair trade and recycled. When people wear sustainable clothing, they are able to see and feel the quality that has been put into the item. This is one of the many reasons why so many designers and brands are choosing more ethical ways to manufacture their products.
It is not always easy to find clothes with a label that assures us that piece is ethically made. Many brands use factories where workers are paid low wages and work in terrible conditions to produce their clothes because it is cheaper. However, there are many online shops and brands that offer sustainable clothing that is handmade, well made, and safe for workers. A few of my favorite brands include Threads For Thought, Reformation, Prancing Leopard Organics and Modavanti.
So now that you are excited about joining the sustainable fashion movement, Rising Tide Fair Trade is here to help you get started! Here is a lookbook using clothing from sustainable brands and RTFT bags to give you some ideas and inspiration on how to be sustainable chic anytime, anywhere.
A Night Out:
This Tuesday, December 3rd, Rising Tide Fair Trade is participating in Fair Tuesday to inspire people to shop fair trade, eco-friendly and/or ethical goods. By shopping with Fair Tuesday participants, you not only are supporting real artisans and communities around the world, you are also supporting a community of independent, small businesses. It’s another reason to feel good about your Fair Tuesday purchase! To encourage you to shop on Fair Tuesday, participants are offering amazing best-of-the-year deals and discounts. Shop for fair trade, ethical and eco-friendly to make a difference! Learn more at http://www.fairtuesday.org
In an effort to create greater awareness around fair trade, we are excited to feature our first guest post from our friends at HandCrafting Justice.
While the coverage of the April 24th Savar building collapse which claimed 1,129 workers’ lives is slowly dying down, the impact of the tragedy continues to manifest itself in the hearts and minds of sympathizers, activists, and consumers world-wide. In a new era of greater corporate visibility and instantaneous news, big companies are coming under increasingly greater public scrutiny to change their disastrous practices. With over one million Bangladeshis in the garment industry, 80% of whom are women, the answer is not to run away from the problem but to drastically change it. Corporations seem to be responding to the pressure a little at a time—but how far do their measures really go?
The international public outcry, evidenced in a series of petitions through the International Labor Rights Forum, Change.org and SumofUs.org with a combined total of over 300,000 signatures, first showed its impact in the May 13th announcement by international retailer H&M committing to support the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The accord, a legally binding agreement to follow certain regulations to protect the safety of factory workers through building regulations, shows an unprecedented swift response by a corporation to appease consumer demand for more ethical working conditions.
Furthermore, the most recent corporate response came as of July 10. Wal-Mart, often criticized for both its domestic and international labor practices, has followed Gap’s initiative with 17 North American retailers and suppliers. This new proposition, The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, has created its own plan of safety measures that promise to inspect every factory that works for an Alliance member in the next year, create a single set of standards for factories, train workers, and create a voice for workers via an anonymous hotline. They also formed a board overseeing the alliance and plan to hold accountability through producing semi-annual progress reports. They already raised $42 million to fund factory improvements, allocating 10 percent to support the victims temporarily displaced due to the Rana Plaza fires.
This Alliance also plans to create a relationship with the Bangladeshi government to ensure continued improvement of factories in the industry. This five-year initiative plans to produce transparent and measurable results. CEOs of the Alliance released a press report on July 10 saying, “The safety record of Bangladeshi factories is unacceptable and requires our collective effort. We can prevent future tragedies by consolidating and amplifying our individual efforts to bring about real and sustained progress.”
The newfound Alliance has drawn in its skeptics as well. Wal-Mart and Gap have previously expressed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, signed now by over 70 mostly European retailers, did not fit their interests because it was legally binding and held the retailers liable beyond the scope of their productions. IndustriALL Global Union has claimed that “the Wal-Mart/Gap initiative falls short of the standard set by the binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.” Scott Nova of the Worker Safety Consortium points out in an NPR interview that the fact that the new plan is not legally binding makes it unenforceable which brings into question its effectiveness.
Another issue is that this has now created two competing alliances, the European Accord versus the North American Alliance. Factory owners themselves are concerned about having two different agreements. Mohammed Atiqul Islam, the president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, has articulated the problem well in an article by The Guardian, “If factories are supplying buyers who have signed up to different agreements then what will they follow? We want a unified code of conduct. Everyone needs clarity and the same standards across the industry.”
We do need a strong sense of commitment and unity across this industry. It seems like common sense to say that everyone should be paid fair wages and not fear fires or building collapses at work. But, unfortunately, that is not the case. As consumers, it is easy to enable such norms. In the simple law of supply and demand, we demand the lowest prices. Unfortunately, that is often at the cost of another human being’s right to fair wages.
One way to change this is to shop ethically and support fair trade. Ask questions about where your products come from. With globalization, it is easy to turn a blind eye to cheap labor because the supply chain has become so convoluted. Some companies did not even know their clothing was being made in the Rana Plaza factories until they found their labels in the rubble. Fair trade makes it simple again. It brings economic justice and dignified labor to artisans around the world. HandCrafting Justice and Rising Tide Fair Trade, for example, can tell you stories about the artisans that make the product you buy. That is the beauty of fair trade: the connectedness, transparency, and real relationships with producers.
Voting in the 5th annual Fair Trade Photo Contest has begun! Educate about the beauty of Fair Trade by voting for Rising Tide Fair Trade and our artisan partner SASHA (ENTRY #10). The 12 winning Fair Trade photos will be featured in the 2014 Fair Trade Calendar! CAST YOUR BALLOT NOW!
While so many stylish products have entered the fair trade market since RTFT began in 2004, it can still be difficult to leave the house ethically dressed from head to toe. For too long, the decision between price, style and source has forced shoppers into a corner. Does this sound familiar? A product has a great story and social mission, but is too simple in design or belongs on the bottom of the NOT HOT list or the floor of your mom’s closet. Or you find a beautifully hand painted organic fair trade silk dress, but it will cost you your rent.
Living in Brooklyn, proud home to the Etsy empire and a bevy of talented entrepreneurs, I see amazing locally made products popping up everyday. But it wasn’t until a recent trip to California, where I uncovered another layer of homegrown fashion that made me rethink how “Made in the U.S.A.” and fair trade products can symbiotically blend to bring what ethical shoppers everywhere have craved for far too long: choice.
As important as it is to ensure production abroad is safe and fair, it feels like it has also never been more important to create jobs at home. And with so many new labels made here in the good old U.S.A., consumers can now choose great cuts and styles for foundation pieces and pepper them with vibrant, exotic fair trade accessories made ethically abroad (like RTFT bags!). Here are our top 5 picks for the best building blocks of a made in the U.S.A worry-free wardrobe. Enjoy and please share your favorites with us!