September 3, 2010

What’s a Fair Trade for Your Town? ~Melinda Haselton

Make your town a Fair Trade.

Burlington, VT certainly earns its spot on the list of progressive small cities in the U.S. with a booming local foods movement, yoga studios galore and legalized same-sex marriage. In addition to local and organic products, fair trade products are popping up all over the place – in coffee shops, natural foods co-ops and gift shops. In and around Burlington, there are several fair trade wholesale businesses like Hope for Women, VT Coffee Company and my business Dolma.  Our local corporations Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Ben & Jerry’s are leading huge fair trade marketing campaigns. It seemed only natural for us to become a fair trade town.

In January 2009, fair trade activists began a conversation about how to educate people about fair trade as well as promote businesses that practice fair trade. We wanted to form a fair trade town so we used the Fair Trade Towns guidelines to make it happen. We:

1) Formed a steering committee with local businesses, universities, organizations and individuals interested in our cause

2) Organized an event for World Fair Trade Day that included a showcase of local businesses, food, drum circle and Senator Bernie Sanders and Mayor Bob Kiss

3) Documented the stores where fair trade is available

4) Documented what kinds of fair trade products are available

5) Wrote a resolution that was passed by Burlington’s City Council to make Burlington an official Fair Trade Town

When our resolution passed in August 2009, we were elated and eager to get to work. We organized a successful event for Fair Trade Month in October, ‘VT’s First Forum on Fair Trade Business’. It included speakers from VT Coffee Company, UVM, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and yours truly, from Dolma. GMCR brought three farmers from their cooperative in Guatemala. It was a true celebration and a fascinating discussion.

But, you ask, should I form my own fair trade town? To put it simply, fair trade is important. It offers an alternative trade model that starts with the producer – what do they need to cover their costs? What measures do they need to take to have as little impact on the environment as possible? It cuts out middlemen so more of the money is going to the producer. By forming a fair trade town, you can help raise awareness in your community and encourage people to be more mindful about what they consume.

The issue is so important to me because I work directly with women artisan cooperatives in India. I have seen for myself how fair trade impacts a community, how it empowers women to create their own livelihoods. It gives them the tools to support their families and to educate their children.

If you have noticed some talk about fair trade in your town or city, get together, discuss and find a way that works for you. We had a lot of fun forming Burlington as a Fair Trade Town. It was a wonderful way to connect our community to an important cause.

The Fair Trade Federation is hosting an event, The Fair Trade Futures Conference, in Boston on September 10 – 12. Activists, business owners and consumers will join together to discuss how fair trade is  — and sometimes isn’t — working and what we can do to increase awareness about fair trade.

How do you see fair trade working? What do you want to know more about?

Melinda Haselton is the owner and founder of Dolma, a Burlington, VT based fair trade company. She works with artisan groups and schools in India with the hope of healing communities through fair trade and education. She also serves as the Programs Director of Fair Trade Burlington. Find her on Twitter @DolmaFairTrade.

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