At the start of college, I began volunteering at a gift shop called Global Gifts, which is a Fair Trade store selling items from artisans around the world. This was a formative experience over the four years I helped there, exposing me to art and culture from all corners of the world while opening my eyes to Fair Trade, Free Trade, and the impact of our consumer purchases on the rest of the globe. My wanderlust grew exponentially as I spent each four-hour shift talking with other volunteers who had travelled abroad, window-shopping items crafted from over 40 different countries, and perusing their library of books that advise on how to be a more informed consumer.
What is Fair Trade?
According to the Fair Trade USA:
“Fair Trade is a global trade model and certification which allows shoppers to quickly identify products that were produced in an ethical manner. For consumers, Fair Trade offers a powerful way to reduce poverty through their everyday shopping. For farmers and workers in developing countries, Fair Trade offers better prices, improved terms of trade, and the business skills necessary to produce high-quality products that can compete in the global marketplace.”
Fair trade principles cover include six different categories: fair prices and credit, fair labor conditions, direct trade, democratic and transparent organizations, community development, and environmental sustainability. Here’s a link to a handout from the Fair Trade Federation:
In my own words, Fair Trade is a standard which signifies a product has been made ethically – there was no child labor, the artisans are being paid fair wages for their products, the environment was not harmed in the making of the product, etc.
What’s it got to do with travel?
I work in juvenile justice, and adolescents are a demographic with whom I love to serve. My time working at Global Gifts showed me how great of an impact I have as a consumer – I place a vote with every dollar, whether I like it or not. In our own country, and even more so globally, my choices as a consumer impact the lives of teens and adolescents and I think it’s important to consider the residents (human and otherwise) of the countries that so graciously let me wander their borders. Let me explain.
Across the world, absent or unenforced child labor laws leave millions of children working long hours in dangerous environments, robbed of their chance at a good education and a real childhood that every youth deserves. When I buy products from companies who use children to do their labor, knowingly or not, I am supporting their efforts. For example, Nestle has received enormous criticism over the years for using children to harvest their cocoa for their chocolates – accusations of tricking parents and stealing children for this intensive manual labor are not unfounded. Nestle produces an incredible number of products, many of which don’t have their name on it directly, so while it takes some research and planning ahead, I make a concerted effort to avoid their products and instead give my business to other companies who guarantee protection of children’s rights.
When I buy products that damage the environment (plastic straws and cups from my regular Starbucks runs, plastic bags when I am too distracted to remember my reusable totes,) I don’t always see the impacts of my wastefulness. Most often, the environmental impact of my consumer habits affect those who cannot afford to escape it, those people who don’t have the money or resources to separate themselves from the litter and related environmental impacts on weather or ecosystems.
I think it is my responsibility to protect both the planet and the people who live on it, especially if I want to enjoy all that the world has to offer as a traveler. I have my qualms with taking a carefree vacation to another country where their children, their economy, or their environment are struggling while my choices as a consumer are contributing. (I plan on exploring the environmental impacts of my travel more in the section “our travel footprint” as it’s too big of an issue for it to be a subtopic of “fair trade”.)
I know the Fair Trade movement has its share of criticisms and I hope to explore those within the confines of these blog walls. I don’t think I will single-handedly change the world with my purchases, or that buying a chocolate bar from a Fair Trade company instead of Nestle is as black and white as it may seem. However, I think that there is a lot of amazing work going on in the Fair Trade movement and a lot of room for me as a global consumer to place my vote for companies and organizations who do business with an eye toward ethics. Under this section, I hope to share more about the Fair Trade movement, why it relates to travel, and how we can become consumers who are more conscious of the global impacts we make with our purchases.
(For more reading about Nestle, try this article: , or head to humanrightswatch.org to read more on child labour across the world).
Have you heard of Fair Trade before? Share your thoughts on the movement in the comments section below. I’d love to hear what you think.