Fair Trade Under Fire

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Farmers in the developing world use fair trade certification, which identifies products that are manufactured using just labor standards, as a gateway to an international market of conscientious shoppers in wealthy countries.

The next frontier for fair trade is conflict zones. “Half of the children who die before their fifth birthday also live in conflict-affected countries and ‘failed states,'” reports Ethical Consumer (March-April 2010). “Developing trust-based structures such as cooperatives can help to restore social stability, and selling fairly traded products . . . can help to raise awareness of conflict situations overseas.”

Consider Afghanistan (and no, we’re not talking about fair trade opium). “Some . . . people in the United Kingdom dried fruit business we’ve spoken to have been really excited about seeing Afghan raisins come back,” says Kate Sebag of the justice-minded import company Tropical Wholefoods. Her business partner, Adam Brett, tells Ethical Consumer that “with the volumes that Afghanistan could produce, we could see whole communities self-sufficient in terms of building schools and rebuilding infrastructure.”

It’s a long and unpredictable road for farmers and their trade partners. American and European peace activists have been selling olive oil that comes from the olive groves of the West Bank for more than a decade. It won fair trade certification only last year. Profits fund the education of farmers’ children and the repair of olive groves destroyed by settlers or the Israeli army. Exports are limited, however, along with the movements of Palestinians, who struggle to make any trip that involves passage through Israel’s travel restrictions and infinite checkpoints.

The existence of other commodities–Pakistan’s apricots, Colombia’s roses, and Somalia’s frankincense–further demonstrates that there is no shortage of opportunity, or desperate need to find models that work.

Image by jakeliefer, licensed under Creative Commons.

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