The 3rd in a 4 Part Series
Fair Trade and Capitalism: can they co-exist?
This is the most challenging yet critical aspect of building Fair Trade into a viable and sustainable business model.
When we juxtapose Fair Trade with Capitalism, we see what we believe to be a contradiction. Capitalism in free societies has proven to be the engine that unleashes human imagination, ingenuity, productivity and wealth creation. In free capitalistic societies with strong democracies, we find legislation protecting workers, consumers, the environment and companies. With capitalism comes the belief that “lowest cost” is to be rewarded. Low cost is the benchmark of a successful company that eliminates waste and inefficiency. Companies that invest in people, plant and equipment and are innovative in a capitalistic society should and will be rewarded by the consumer.
Unfortunately, in our global economy, the same protections in the US we take for granted are often not provided to employees and artisans around the world. Companies, exporters and middlemen in an advantaged position over artisans exploit this advantage. Often these practices (wages, working conditions, safety, business practices, environmental impact) would be illegal in the US. Yet, because of the global economy, products produced by artisans around the globe are often sourced at very low prices and sold in the US to bargain shopping consumers.
So, if Fair Trade means higher prices, what are the advantages for the Consumer?
- Custom, handcrafted merchandise
- Knowing their purchases are investments in the livelihoods of disadvantaged families
- Unique one of a kind items or merchandise with limited availability
- Contribution to social justice
- Buyers of Fair Trade support producers who are struggling to improve their lives
- Fair trade means fair wages
- Fair Trade products are made in safe and healthy working conditions
Consumers who are aware of the values and operating principals of Fair Trade, who believe in the dignity, worth and value of their fellow man and who actively pursue purchasing from Fair Trade businesses are what will drive this worthy movement.
Case in point.
This image was taken in January 2019 in a remote village in East Africa. Your author is me, the fellow in the blue shirt holding the necklace. The artisan sitting next to me wearing the traditional macawiis was selling this necklace made from recycled material and beads. The handiwork was stunning given the limited tools and raw materials available in this desolate location.
As negotiations began, I realized the price he was asking was high given the negotiating leverage I held. I could have bought a similar item from an artisan in a local town just two hours away for less. I was even heading back through that town the same day. The only reason the item would have been cheaper there is competition from artisans selling similar jewelry.
Tourist however were few and far between keeping prices low for all artisans. So here I am, a believer in Fair Trade, wanting to purchase this beautiful handcrafted beaded necklace and knowing the price I was quoted is high relative to a local town I would be traveling through.
The decision was simple. I bought it!
In this sand and mud hut in a remote village in the middle of a desert where camel caravans transport goods to and from towns far away, this artisan was going to earn my business. So what I could have saved the cost of a cup of coffee? Leaving there this day left me with a renewed sense of purpose to continue to source and sell Fair Trade products on Trutogs.com. I knew that artisans family who lived in a very remote village so far away from civilization would benefit from my purchase. The price I paid enabled a fair wage. The price I paid was right!
Sourcing Fair Trade products to sell on Trutogs.com is the right thing for humanity. Enabling artisans in remote villages to earn a fair wage and provide for their families delivers on all seven of the advantages noted above to the consumer.
Stay tuned for the final article in this four-part series.
- 4th Benefits to the Artisan