Fair Trade: It’s Tough to be an Ethical Consumer

No one ever said green would be cheap or easy. The sad truth of the matter is the average consumer’s commitment to greenness is mostly tied paradoxically and perversely to the cost of a gallon of gas.

So when pundits across the pond wonder whether Fair Trade is still a useful eco-brand, the question answers itself and then generates a new one: Yes; and what else is there, pray tell?

Since 1999, the non-profit Fair Trade Resource Network’s mission has been to build a fair and sustainable world by gathering, developing, and disseminating educational resources about Fair Trade. FTRN is the only non-profit organization on the planet focused exclusively on Fair Trade education, helping people to better understand the impact of their buying decisions.

There’s some evidence that in the US at least, Fair Trade is growing in relevance and influence.

A record 100,000 people across the US and Canada are expected to participate in hundreds of events over the next two weeks to mark World Fair Trade Day on May 14, 2011.

Cities, towns, churches, groups and individuals plan events to highlight the social, economic, and environmental benefits of buying Fair Trade. The events include Fair Trade festivals, Fair Trade coffee breaks, webinars and Fair Trade artisan tours.

Here’s more information about World Fair Trade Day events in your area, and its benefits.

Despite Fair Trade’s 13-year history many Americans are unaware how many day-to-day items are produced in abusive labor conditions that include sweatshops and child labor. These items include clothing, furniture, and foods such as coffee, chocolate, and sugar. The Fair Trade system helps producers and suppliers earn a living wage and take action to protect the environment. It also helps empower individuals and communities, support women’s and children’s rights, promote dignity and respect, and connect developing nations with developed nations and markets.

That’s the sustainable and ethical essence of the triple bottom line.

Paul Rice, CEO of Fair Trade USA, says the Fair Trade retail sales market last year in the US was $1.4 billion. In Europe, which started its fair trade market 30 years ago, sales reached $3 billion.

In the vast scheme of retail things those are paltry numbers; is this Fair Trade’s fault? In a world where a good consumer is the one that finds the cheapest deal or the deepest discount, the ethical consumer faces difficult, expensive and often paradoxical choices. For Fair Trade, every little bit helps; every small step taken is a small victory.


writer, editor, reader and general good (ok mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by