Since October is Fair Trade Month I thought it was a perfect time to write about an important topic - Fair Trade vs. Free Trade. I often hear people refer to fair trade as free trade, assuming the two are one and the same. Fair trade and free trade are actually quite different in both intent and execution. With the presidential election around the corner one of the hot topics lately has been trade. For example, the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the latest proposed trade agreement, involving 12 nations in Asia and the Americas.
The Fair Trade Federation, our membership organization, recently published this chart that illustrates the difference between these 2 types of trade.
Hopefully this will clarify some of the confusion around this issue. The graphic below is another wonderful illustration of what fair trade is all about so I wanted to share that too. And I'm always available to answer questions or talk more about this topic that I am so passionate about.
On a beautiful fall day we arrived at Bentley University in Waltham, MA, to see a large tent filled with vendors for the third annual Fair Trade Day. Bentley is largely a business college and the Service Learning Program is incorporating fair trade into the curriculum. This was Women’s Peace Collection’s second year as a participant and the event had grown significantly since last year. The crowds were bigger and there were many more vendors selling everything from fair trade coffee, tea, chocolate and a variety of beautiful crafts. And of course Ben and Jerry’s was there giving out free ice cream.
What impressed me most were the students. They were excited about shopping for a cause and asked thoughtful questions about how we source our products, what percentage the artisans receive, what makes the items fair trade, and so forth. Our new jewelry collection made by survivors of human trafficking in India was the best seller of the day – not only are the pieces beautiful but these young students loved the idea of helping the women who made them and were touched by the tags which say “made with love” and signed by the artisan. They were buying for themselves and for loved ones and clearly understood fair trade and its impact. And incidentally, I met a professor who teaches a sociology course on human trafficking – Bentley is on the ball!
We have participated in fair trade events at other colleges, including Siena College in Albany, NY, and Worcester State University in Worcester, MA. I absolutely love being at these events. It’s thrilling to meet students who are passionate about making a difference in the world and who understand fair trade as a vehicle for change. It gives me hope for the next generation and for our planet.
I just love summer. I can’t get enough of the warm, sunny New England days - swimming in our stunning lakes, hiking with my dogs and hopping on my bike. And of course – summer festivals! For years my husband and I attended music festivals and craft fairs all summer long as spectators, and now we spend most weekends with our Women’s Peace Collection booth, selling our fair trade handicrafts. We've been out in the hot sun, the rain, tropical winds and the perfect summer day - and it’s a blast!
The only drawback to selling primarily online is that we don’t have many opportunities to meet our customers in person. So this year we decided to be more visible and get to know our customers better. At festivals and fairs all over New England, from Cambridge to the Berkshires, we’ve met amazing people. As an extrovert there’s nothing I like more than schmoozing with people, so I’ve thoroughly enjoyed talking with people from all walks of life about fair trade. And once again, I’m humbled and delighted by the response we consistently get not only about our products but about our mission. The truth is people love to help other people! Both women and men, over and over, tell us how they love buying gifts with a purpose (for themselves as well). More people than ever are asking for cards that describe their purchase so the recipient can know the story behind it (and we’ve listened and are now providing them whenever possible).
And we’re carrying more products with particularly interesting stories, such as the jewelry collection made from melted down artillery shells in Ethiopia and our new jewelry made by survivors of human trafficking. And while it’s wonderful that so many people already know about and understand fair trade, it’s also very exciting to educate people who want to learn more. I just love hearing parents explaining to their children that the item they just bought is helping a woman out of poverty.
Soon we’ll be heading into fall where harvest festivals abound but for now I’m soaking in the summer sun, surrounded by all of my beautifully handmade fair trade crafts.
As Mother's Day approaches I thought I'd write about why Women's Peace Collection focuses on fair trade products handmade by women. There are so many stunning fair trade handicrafts out there these days made by both women and men that it’s very hard to choose which ones to add to our collection. Our goal is always to choose gorgeous, high quality products made by women or families that have a cause attached to them. Our mission is simple – offer our customers the most beautiful, meaningful, sustainable products we can find that help women and families live a better life.
There are specific reasons we focus on working primarily with female artisans. First, it has been shown over and over across the globe that if you invest in women they put the money to good use – educating their children, providing nutritious food for their families, gaining access to quality health care, and starting savings accounts. Studies show that women invest up to 90% of their income back into their families, whereas men on average invest 30-40%.
Did you know that 70% of the world’s poorest people are women? Astounding, isn't it? So investing in women and helping them earn a living wage is one way to help alleviate poverty. And rather than just giving money in the form of donations, investing in a woman’s skills and talents gives her a way to support her family in an ongoing manner.
Selling women’s crafts through fair trade also helps reduce other social issues facing women. By empowering them through the sale of their handiwork and teaching them business skills, women gain greater strength and power in their marriages. Domestic and sexual violence against women is rampant all over the globe, but when women earn a viable income they are less vulnerable and have more decision-making power in their relationships. It has been shown that in some communities domestic violence decreases as women's earning power increases.
Having said all that, we do carry some products made by men. For example, our hand-carved wooden spoon collection from Guatemala is made by a group of highly talented, socially conscious men. These men donate 10% of their sales to female elders in their community to help with healthcare and other needs. Some of our products are made by family groups, where for example the men may do the wood carving while the women paint the designs. And the women are often the ones managing the business side of the cooperative. We carefully vet the sourcing of all of our products, so when we do carry products made by men we ensure that women and children in the community are benefitting.
Yet again, our passion for fair trade is hopefully evident. We sell beautiful treasures handmade by talented women whose lives are improving as a result of their expanding marketplace. What’s better than that?
Happy Mother's Day to all the amazing women out there!
What a gift it was to return to Guatemala recently. My husband Peter was with me this time and I had the privilege of introducing him to the artisan groups I met last year. He was as enamored as I was with the people, the country and the incredible talent of the artisans.
It was a joy to visit the Sharing the Dream Elder Program in Santiago Atitlan again and see my old friends Bernabela, Diana, Estella and Miguel. When we sat down with Bernabela, the director of the beading group, I felt like I was home. Her radiant smile and hearty laughter warmed my heart yet again. Her sense of humor is contagious, as she joked with Peter (“Pedro”), trying to communicate with him given his limited Spanish. At one point we were designing some new jewelry for the spring and there were several trays of tiny beads we were choosing from. Bernabela accidentally knocked over a tray and the beads were scattered all over the floor, mixing the colors in a total mess. After about a second of shock, Bernabela let out an uproarious laugh and that was that – no crisis! And we did manage to design some stunning jewelry.
Then we were off to San Juan La Laguna. San Juan is a stunningly beautiful village on top of a hill overlooking Lake Atitlan, known for its hand woven textiles made from plant dyed fibers. The streets are lined with artisan cooperatives filled with the most beautiful weavings imaginable – a fair traders paradise! When we came across a cooperative with a sign out front that said, “Comercio Justo y Solidario” (“Fair Trade and Solidarity" in Spanish) we were in heaven. The fact that fair trade had made it to a tiny Mayan village was heartwarming indeed.
Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in the world and the people there have suffered tremendously through the long civil war and its aftermath. It is my hope that helping the artisans expand the market for their beautiful handicrafts through fair trade can at least make a small difference, one individual at a time.
Today, December 1, marks two very special events – #FairTuesday and #GivingTuesday.
#FairTuesday is an ethical shopping movement developed in response to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The goal of #FairTuesday is to inspire conscious consumerism and show how an everyday purchase can change lives in a whole community. #FairTuesday features fair trade, ethical, and eco-friendly brands all dedicated to creating positive, sustainable change.
On #GivingTuesday charities, families, businesses, community centers and students around the world come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.
It warms my heart to know that there are large groups of people increasingly committed to giving and using the power of the dollar to change the world. We thoughtfully deliberated how to incorporate these 2 “holidays” here at Women’s Peace Collection. As a fair trade company we wanted to make sure to join the #Fair Tuesday movement, but of course we are all about giving and generosity! Last week we donated 10% of all sales on Black Friday to Hands in Outreach, a group in Nepal that provides education to girls in Nepal. That was part of yet another exciting new movement, #GoodKarmaIsTheNewBlackFriday.
We ultimately decided that offering our customers a #FairTuesday discount is an act of giving in a number of ways. First, we express our appreciation to the people who buy our products, because without your support our artisan partners would not have a source of income. To that end, we are also giving to our artisan partners since more sales means a higher standard of living for them. And we are giving to the environment since our products are sustainably produced. In addition, we are hopefully raising consciousness about fair trade and socially conscious shopping, thus doing our part in making this world a better place!
In the spirit of #GivingTuesday I also want to remind you of an ongoing opportunity to give every time you make a WPC purchase. We give 10% of all sales to an amazing organization, Dining for Women, every time you purchase something at WPC through their website link. To learn more about how they help women all over the world and to shop through their site go to www.diningforwomen.org .
Let this special Tuesday be a day of generosity, love and gratitude for all!
We are thrilled that after a rigorous and lengthy application process Women’s Peace Collection was recently accepted as a Fair Trade Federation member! And that it happened during October, Fair Trade Month, is even more exciting! Our business is growing and we are expanding our market to support increasing numbers of artisans around the world, so we wanted to make sure our customers know that we are fully committed to the fair trade principles that the Federation represents.
I haven’t written anything as comprehensive as the FTF application since I was in graduate school (a long time ago), but the exercise was extremely useful - it enabled me to gain a stronger understanding of fair trade and to fully evaluate our business in order to ensure that Women’s Peace Collection is staying true to all of the FTF principles.
So what exactly is fair trade? Here’s the definition from the FTF website: “Fair trade is an approach to business and to development based on dialogue, transparency and respect that seeks to create greater equity in the international trading system. Fair trade supports farmers and craftspeople in developing countries who are socially and economically marginalized."
The Fair Trade Federation is a community of businesses committed to 360 degrees fair trade! The members are thoroughly screened based on the following 9 principles of fair trade:
We are so excited to be able to inform all of our customers and readers that we passed all of these principles with flying colors! We are fully committed to creating opportunities for marginalized artisans around the world, ensuring safe and ecologically sustainable working conditions and making sure the artisans are paid promptly. And we love being a part of the wonderful FTF member community of passionate, committed, loving folks all devoted to helping impoverished people around the world!
Fair trade provides a unique opportunity for consumers, businesses and organizations to work together to create a better world for millions of people simply by choosing where and how one spends their dollar! Thanks for being part of our community and supporting us in this endeavor.