Recently, I had two opportunities to reflect on my years in fair trade and on what fair trade is all about: I spoke to a gathering of Ten Thousand Villages’ store managers, and I prepared a reflection on the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) with Carol Wills from the UK, a former director of WFTO. Looking back got me thinking about the future of the fair trade movement, and the challenges those of us within the movement need to address if fair trade is to thrive.
The people-friendly dynamic of fair trade – putting people before profit, that is – fits well with the environmental concerns that have become uppermost in many consumers’ minds. Reducing our impact on the environment means less waste and fewer harmful chemicals and materials in the workplace. It means fresher air and water for everyone from the artisan to the consumer. A cleaner environment is in the best interest of everyone, which is why WFTO members like Ten Thousand Villages must be continuously making business practices more sustainable to maintain membership. It’s built into the principles of Fair Trade. Currently, the commercial world is nowhere near addressing this basic reality, nor redressing the north-south imbalance.
We at Ten Thousand Villages are building a sustainable bridge between Canadians and our partners – artisans in developing countries. We trade using 10 Fair Trade Principles, with a focus on long-term relationships based on solidarity, trust and mutual respect. For example, our role in Nepal goes beyond the immediate disaster relief required by our partners who were impacted by the recent earthquake. Ten Thousand Villages’ commitment to continuing to place orders for years to come gives them hope that they will have the resources to complete the rebuilding process and face the long road ahead.
I view the work we are doing with the present generation of producers as enabling them to move beyond the daily struggle for survival, giving them the freedom and opportunity to better their lives for their children’s future. The real test of our success lies in part with the next generation, and we will thus be watching for less instability and increased self-sufficiency in years to come.
Fair trade enables people to make their own choices, and it helps them develop the skills to make those choices.
Making choices for yourself is empowerment. We hope this leads to new ideas from unexpected places about how to work smarter and make a real difference in the fair trade movement and within the larger world of global trade.
We have to summon the courage to act together to foster real, positive and sustainable changes in our lives.
The promise of a wider community based on dignity and mutual respect beckons all of us to this task and this service, in whatever way we can participate.
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