Christmas Shopping. Do you hear what I hear? The hustle and bustle of holiday shoppers. Do you feel what I feel? That crisp Christmas air that chills your bones during the holidays. Do you see what I see? The sweat dripping down your friends face as they hope their credit card gets approved after one purchase too many. After all, the average American allocates $660 dollars of their budget towards gift giving during the holidays. It just would not be Christmas without the shopping and the gift giving. The perfect sweater you get from Target or that new pair of Air Pods your sister’s been wanting for months; the anticipation rises as they slowly peal back the paper and you wait for their expression to change from neutral to pure joy.
I don’t know about you, but often times my gift giving is much more centered around the PERSON I’m buying for not necessarily the PRODUCT I’m buying. While I think that is the way the spirit of gift giving should be, but I think we’re missing out on a huge opportunity when we don’t pay too much attention to what we’re actually buying. Let me explain. You pick your gift, swipe your card, wrap it up, and give it away; then what? Most of us probably don’t think past our credit card being approved. Well, maybe we should be.
I want you to pick up the closest item to you and see where it was made. For me it’s my coffee mug, made in China. Now when I bought this coffee mug, I probably spent oh $10-15 dollars on it. How much of that money do you think went back to the person who made it? I paid the store, so does that mean the store pays $10-15 dollars to the crafter of my mug? Logically that would make sense, but that is not always the case. In fact, the average hourly wage for factory workers in China is just $1.36. So, assuming it takes 30 minutes to make this mug that means that the factory worker got paid $0.68 to make this mug. Not nearly as much as you were thinking, right?
DISCLAIMER: There is a lot that goes into differing wages across countries: average cost of living, average salary in that country, inflation, exchange rate, etc. I am not trying to slam ALL major companies who have exported their manufacturing to different countries, simply trying to highlight organizations that have done well in solving this issue.
There is clearly a major problem with the example above. The wages these workers are getting paid are keeping them poor; while others are profiting off of their poverty. So maybe there’s a little bit more thought that needs to go into your Christmas shopping this year. But where do you even start? Well, lucky for you, something has been done about this that can guide you in your gift giving; it’s called Fair Trade.
What is Fair Trade?
This term has been thrown around a lot in the past couple of years. If I’m being honest, up until I started working for an organization (RecycloCraftz) that operates off of fair trade principles, I had no idea what it meant to be fair trade. So let me clear some things up for those of you who are as confused as I was. Here’s what fair trade is not. Fair trade is not a marketing scheme, luring customers in to pay more for products simply because it leaves them feeling good about their purchases. Fair trade is not a couple of individuals bringing back products in their suitcases from overseas excursions. Fair trade is not a brand-new concept and it is not one that is going away any time soon.
Essentially Fair Trade is a pretty simple idea; paying a fair price for a fair wage to those who work really hard to produce various goods. Here’s a little history lesson for you.
- The concept of fair trade began around the 1960s with a small group of genuinely concerned activists focused on poverty-stricken farmers in the global south. They largely just wanted to create a new trading model that would ensure fairer rewards for farmers’ crops.
- In 1988 the first fair trade label was created that ensured that their products met international fair-trade standards.
- That set standards for fair wages paid to producers so that they couldn’t be exploited by big brand companies. Yes!
- This paved the way to what we have now, a set of 10 principles that guide fair trade organizations all across the globe.
Now don’t get too excited because unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. While fair trade is benefiting more than 7 million people in the developing world; that’s pretty small compared to the 1.4 billion people living in the world today. Nearly 1/5th of the world’s population lives on just $1.25 a day. The poverty cycle is still very much alive and well. The cool thing about fair trade? It argues “no handouts please, simply the right of producers to earn a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work”.
AND not only do these concepts apply to factory workers and farmers but to also those who work out of their homes. This piece impacts the female workforce specifically (where are my ladies at?!). According to the international labor organization, there are 300 million workers from home globally and most are women. Craft work is the second largest employer of women in developing economies, only second to agriculture. What’s up with all the crafting? Well, oftentimes women in developing countries are limited in their ability to work outside of their homes. Maybe their husbands forbid it, or gender violence makes them too nervous to work in a co-ed environment, or the demands of their family are too great (I’m sure some of you reading this can relate to this). Fair trade ensures that these women warriors are getting paid fairly for the work they do in their homes.
So now that we know a little bit more about fair trade, who operates under these principles? Where should you shop?
Where should I shop?
As an employee of a fair-trade organization I try to keep my hand on the pulse of the fair trade community. There are SO many good companies out there who model these fair trade principles exceptionally. However, the ones I am recommending to you, go beyond just fair trade principles. They seek to impact their workers holistically. Meaning they don’t want to see them succeed solely economically; but educationally, emotionally, and some spiritually. A topic I could spend another whole article writing on!
Drum roll please…
Up first is Mercy House Global. They exist to engage, empower, and disciple women around the globe in Jesus’ name. They seek to engage those with resources to say yes to the plight of women in poverty; empower women and teenage mothers around the world through partnerships and sustainable fair trade product development; and disciple women to be lifelong followers of Jesus Christ. They have awesome trendy products that any woman in your life would love. They also do a monthly subscription box that includes fair trade products from all across the globe!
Next up is the Maya Collection, who are local to Louisville. They employ Napoli refugees in the Louisville area to craft their products using their native skills creating unique jewelry, handmade crafts, soaps, and various textile products. They care for and work alongside these refugees to make a strange country feel a little bit more like home.
Moving on down is Bytavi. This org makes clothing and handbags based off of fair-trade principles by a team of talented seamstresses in Cambodia. Each product is personally signed by the artist who made it. Their purpose is to connect capable women with their self-worth. They have beautiful clothing and handbags to explore.
The Karama Collection was founded in 2004 to help grow Young Life Africa. They focus on their core aims of providing dignified work to artisans in Africa and Haiti making beautiful, handmade products and using their proceeds to support teens in Africa and Haiti. They have beautiful leather goods and jewelry to browse through.
Rounding them out is RecycloCraftz. I cannot write an article on the importance of fair trade without highlighting the awesome organization I work for. We work with about 30 men and women in Zambia, Africa operating off of fair-trade principles. We focus on vocational training, literacy development, and discipleship in hopes to make an educational, economic, and eternal difference in the lives of the impoverished in Zambia. Our products are bright, colorful, and full of that African soul.
Let me tell you, it was HARD to pick just a few. There are so many organizations that could be highlighted here. I encourage you to do your own research! Begin to discover exactly where your money goes after you purchase a product. You’ll be surprised just how much can be done through a $25 handbag or a $20 pair of earrings. We’ve done the hard part, all you have to do is choose to shop fair this holiday season. This movement is growing, will you jump in?
The Fair Trade Revolution by John Bowes- https://www.amazon.com/Fair-Trade-Revolution-John-Bowes/dp/0745330789