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March 3, 2008 | by  | in Opinion |
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What is Fair Trade?

The cynic in me has an announcement. Humans are assholes! Before you gather the lynch mob for calling you and everyone you care about an asshole (come on, you’ve been called worse), listen to your inner pessimist and you’ll find an argument to justify my slur. Now forget your argument and listen to mine!

It’s undeniable that the world is a grossly unjust place. When over a billion people live in extreme poverty (that’s living on less than US$1 a day) while 90% of the world’s wealth is controlled by 10% of the population, it’s plain to see. It’s an obvious problem; the vast majority of the world isn’t getting a fair deal. There are however solutions, one of them being the fair trade movement.

So just what is fair trade? Fair trade is global movement that seeks to establish trading partnerships, based on dialogue, transparency and respect for greater equity in international trade. It offers an opportunity for both producers and consumers to challenge unfair trading practices.

The advantages of current international trading practice are not visible to all the people of the world. Much of the vast array of goods available to us are produced, traded and consumed with practices that are not only unjust but also contribute greatly to world poverty.

While here in the first world we may be enjoying prices than even students can afford, those in the third world don’t see the fruits of their labour. This of course is understandable when the estimated 1.2 million Mexican workers in maquiladora factories (assembly plants located near the Mexican/American border) receive less than 20% of a sustainable living wage for a day’s work.

For those fortunate enough to work outside sweatshops, life often doesn’t improve. Small farmers for example often find it difficult to access market price information. For many, this results in an increasing dependence on middlemen and increasingly smaller returns for their work. In hard times these people can lose their land, often their only asset and the essential key to their livelihood. Many plantation workers face the same hardships as their lives aren’t so much lived as endured. Low pay, unsafe working environments, poor living conditions and exclusion from the decisions that affect their lives on the plantation ensures their poverty and suffering.

Through the better trading conditions offered by the fair trade movement disadvantaged people such as these are given power. Power from an income that covers costs and provides a sustainable livelihood, power from the income security offered by long-term contracts, power through support to gain the skills and knowledge needed to develop their business and to operate in the global economy.

It is about giving these people a fair go, not charity.

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