October 2, 2010

The Future of Fair Trade. ~ Melinda Haselton

What was learned about the future of Fair Trade.

The Fair Trade Futures Conference took place in Quincy, MA September 10 – 12. 750+ activists, entrepreneurs, students and curious citizens came together to learn about fair trade and to look at its challenges and successes.

At its core, the fair trade movement seeks to support sustainable farms and cooperatives and protect the rights of the farmers and artisans involved. The movement is comprised of many individuals and groups who are working all over the world to heal communities.

Ideas on how to achieve this goal differ. Some think that the best way is to focus on small farms and cooperatives in order to build strong and effective systems. Other think that working on a large scale to reach as many farmers as possible is a better strategy.

Hearing from farmers and artisans from around the world was by far the most meaningful part of the conference for me. It is easy for us to sit in our well insulated homes discussing fair trade, but to see how it is impacting the lives of the people from whom we purchase our goods was humbling.

Santiago Paz of CEPICAFE coffee cooperatives shared stories about the many ways fair trade is benefiting his village in Peru – more children in school, better health care, improved business skills etc.

He also raised concerns about working with multi-national corporations. Fair trade works well for small farms because it is easier to enforce fair trade standards. He is concerned that if bigger farms and cooperatives are brought into this, that the standards of fair wages, transparency and environmental practices will be compromised. Many people at the conference shared this concern.

As with any social movement, it is important to assess what is and isn’t working. The Futures Conference gave us the opportunity to do that and at the same time to celebrate work we are doing to make trade fair.

As consumers, we have to do our homework with any company we buy from. It’s such a good practice to start. It takes just a little time to ask around and search the web. We all play a part in this interwoven global community. While it may not seem like one cup of fair trade coffee can make a difference, it all adds up. Many small skillful choices combine to make an impact throughout the world.

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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