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Home > English > Alternatives International Journal > 2009 > Ides of May 2009 > Balancing The Scales

Balancing The Scales

When Fair Trade Works

Thursday 4 June 2009, by Sally Richmond

Rather than getting squeezed by
conventional trade, thousands of
artisans and farmers around the world
will have enough money to provide their
families with food, shelter, education,
and health care.

The Fair Trade movement is a worldwide
phenomenon that holds at its core the
belief that people come before profits.
Fair Trade is a response to the global
inequalities caused by the conventional
trading system that has all too often
resulted in the rich becoming richer
whilst the producers at the bottom of
the trade chain remain desperately poor.

In order for an organisation to be
recognised as Fair Trade, it must satisfy
the 10 standards of the World Fair
Trade Organisation (WFTO), the first
of which is the payment of a fair price,
determined through dialogue with the
producer groups.

By working directly with producer
groups, Fair Trade avoids middlemen.
Conventional trade normally requires the
use of 3-10 middlemen. Avoiding this
has the threefold advantage of allowing
the producer to have a greater cut of
the final selling price, cutting the cost of
importation, and increasing transparency
for the Fair Trade Organisation.

It is also crucial to commit to long-
term, reliable trade relationships.
Conventional traders will often cancel
orders or renegotiate the prices after
the orders have been placed, leaving the
producers vulnerable and making their
work risky.

Respecting human rights is fundamental
to Fair Trade, particularly those of
women and children. Women remain
disproportionately amongst the poorest
in society and often have no social safety
nets, no education, no voice, and few
choices. For these reasons, 70% of the
producers that Ten Thousand Villages /
Dix Mille Villages (a non-profit FTO that is
one of the pioneers of the movement- full
disclosure: your correspondent proudly
manages one of their stores) works with
are women. Women are given an equal
voice and are always paid the same salaries
as men. Producer groups are also often
able to offer services and programmes to
their workers and to the wider community,
including help with education, medical
care, insurance, revolving loans, skills
training, and profit sharing.

For trade to be truly fair the local
environment of the producers must be
respected as well. Fair Trade dealers
must work with producers to support
the use of clean fuels, clean production
methods, and sustainable materials.
Indeed, many products are made of re-
used or re-cycled or re-claimed materials.

One such producer group is Get Paper.
Based in Nepal, Get Paper started out
as a small income-generating project
for Dalits— the lower caste of so-
called Untouchables. Paper making
was chosen because the process is
fairly simple to learn and because of the
abundance of raw materials— recycled
waste paper and cotton, water hyacinth,
jute, and even corn husks. Since the start
of the project, the workforce has grown
from 14 employees to 125, with additional
seasonal workers to boot. As well as fair
wages, the workers are provided with free
lunches, health benefits, pension funds,
and a share in company profits.

Since 1993, Get Paper has used
25% of its profits to support various
community development initiatives.
They have planted over 2,000 trees as
Fair Dues continued from page 5
part of their reforestation project and
have developed a very successful HIV/
Aids Education Program.

The project of which Get Paper is most
proud is the “Send Your Daughter To
School” campaign. Tragically, Nepalese
girls born into very poor families are often
sent to work in brothels in India to earn
money to help support their families.
Firmly believing that education is the
key to ending this practice, Get Paper
built a series of girls’ schools. After it
became apparent that the very poorest
people were still not sending their
daughters to school, Get Paper offered
the very poorest family in the village a
small allowance on the condition that
their girl went to school every day; this
inspired the families of those who were
a little better off to send their daughters
to school as well.

Get Paper has succeeded in making
life better for its employees and for
Nepalese all around the country, which
is what Fair Trade is all about.

Sally Richmond is the manager of
Montreal’s Ten Thousand Villages-
Monkland as well as a Fair Trade activist.