Bangladesh Artisans

IMG_20140526_175946Working at Ten Thousand Villages, I have the opportunity every day to learn about Fair Trade and see the positive impact this unique business model has on artisans and farmers in developing countries. It’s hard, though, to get a sense for how much the general public knows about what we do.

Christian Malleck and I wanted to evaluate the level of knowledge people in our city have about Fair Trade. So, one evening a few weeks ago, we found ourselves in Uptown Waterloo’s Market Square. We chose this location because it has a high volume of pedestrian traffic and many retail shops nearby. Waterloo also has a pretty strong presence of Fair Trade, so it would be interesting to gauge the awareness in light of that.

Our setup was straightforward – just a table and a sign – and we didn’t say we were affiliated with Ten Thousand Villages, as we didn’t want to scare people away who thought we might be trying to sell them something. We asked just three questions, as our goal was simply to get a general idea of people’s awareness of Fair Trade, while also making sure we weren’t taking up too much of anyone’s time. (We used the tried-and-true technique of “bribing” people with chocolate!)

Our questions were:

  1. Do you know what Fair Trade means, and can you briefly explain it?
  2. Do you know of anywhere you can purchase Fair Trade products in the area?
  3. If something is Fair Trade, is that enough incentive to buy it over something that is not? What other factors matter when you buy something?

Our sample size was definitely too small to make any scientific pronouncements, but we had some interesting interactions that we wanted to share.

A few people we spoke with initially confused “Fair Trade” with “free trade.” But after we clarified what we were talking about, most people did recognize the term. Some key words people used to describe Fair Trade were: sustainability, creating networks, fair wages, non-exploitation and good value.

About 70% of the people we spoke with knew of at least one place in the city where Fair Trade products could be purchased. Christian and I consider ourselves pretty knowledgeable about Fair Trade in our region, but one person told us about a store we hadn’t heard of before! It’s always exciting to discover more places with Fair Trade offerings, and it’s awesome to know Fair Trade is growing more popular all the time.

There was certainly a common thread among the answers to our final question: 70% of people we spoke with IMG_20140526_175930said price is a major factor when deciding between products. It was interesting to us that, after someone had explained Fair Trade in their own words, and clearly understood the ethical nature of it, they still mentioned that price was one of the biggest factors when deciding what to purchase. This might just be because most of us care deeply about saving our money. It seems more likely to us, however, that people have the impression Fair Trade goods are always significantly more expensive. This is often not the case, as prices are kept very competitive – so it was great to have a chance to share that information.

Some people commented that it’s hard to know when a product is ethical or not, and that they didn’t know much about the different labels and certifications. Another major factor for a number of people was the quality of a product, with one person specifically saying she only ever buys chocolate from Ten Thousand Villages because it tastes so much better. (I agree wholeheartedly, as I’m currently devouring one of the Divine chocolate bars Ten Thousand Villages sells, while typing this blog entry!)

Overall, we were impressed by the level of awareness that people had about the existence of Fair Trade and of retailers in our city that stock Fair Trade options. But we were also surprised at how few people really understood the need for a drastic change in consumer mentality. Although the Fair Trade movement is growing across Canada, with new Fair Trade towns and campuses being added regularly, there are still many myths circulating in the minds of the average consumer about the nature of Fair Trade products.

We hope with the help of our loyal customers and readers of our blog, we can help bolster the Fair Trade movement across Canada and around the world!

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