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What is Fair Trade really all about?

Jennie Young • Apr 14, 2014 at 2:16 PM

By recent accounting, human trafficking, or modern-day slavery, has moved into second place among global illegal trades and is still the fastest growing. Women and children, especially young girls, are most frequently the “merchandise.” It’s jolting to realize that slavery is more widespread today than it’s ever been. It’s a cruel business. Individuals are snared by various means, but far too often selling children becomes an industry for desperately poor parents. Children, particularly girls, are sold to traffickers who purchase ostensibly for domestic servanthood, a ruse for supplying the more lucrative sex market. Alarm over the rapid increase in human trafficking has spread worldwide as cases surface. No country, including ours, is immune. Thousands of people are stolen or bought. As awareness grows, governments and public agencies intervene. In poorer areas of the world, the sheer numbers of traumatized victims fortunate enough to be rescued tax the ability of social service agencies to care for them. Enormous resources are necessary to provide safe re-entry into society for ones vulnerable to revictimization. Growing concurrently with the illegal horrors is a beneficent worldwide force called Fair Trade. The mission of the Fair Trade movement is to provide fair employment opportunities to disadvantaged and marginalized farmers and artisans, standing in sharp contrast to exploitative sweatshops and forced labor. Groups within the Fair Trade movement work to support individual artisans and farmers and small cooperatives by providing fair compensation and access to world markets. In third world countries, typically, ever-present crony capitalism makes deals with local governments, which marginalize small producers. Committed people from all over the world are attracted to the work of Fair Trade and are involved at all levels. Groups like Ten Thousand Villages, a major early player, contract with artisans and small coffee, tea and cocoa farmers and co-ops and pay fair compensation upon delivery of products. All certified products are subjected to rigorous standards and transparency as they migrate up the supply chain to consumers. Thousands served by FT organizations have been rescued out of human trafficking, often as not referred by overburdened social service agencies. Entrepreneurs involved in Fair Trade often create manufacturing enterprises for the sole purpose of providing safe workplaces and living wages for traumatized and still vulnerable individuals. My interest and support of the Fair Trade movement until recently was pretty much limited to making sure the coffee and tea I purchased had the Fair Trade Certified label. Then I met Michael and Leah Short, who operate our area’s only certified Fair Trade store, Artisans’ Village, located just inside the entrance to the King Center in Johnson City, with its enticing window on Main Street. It’s from them I learned of the critical role the Fair Trade movement plays in restoring human trafficking victims to safety and a support community. If you visit Artisans’ Village and engage either Michael or Leah in conversation, you won’t get a sales pitch. You’ll learn about Fair Trade from a deeply committed, passionate representative. The store’s brochure is like no advertising model I’ve ever seen. There’s nothing about the store except contact information on the back fold. There are pictures of artisans at work and text that explains Fair Trade and lists the 10 principles the movement upholds. The Shorts opened shop a year ago when approached by the Ten Thousand Villages organization to become one in their family of stores in an area lacking a certified outlet. They decided to endure the arduous process to become Fair Trade-certified retailers themselves and recently received their certification through the Fair Trade Federation, one of two major certification boards. Certification gives one more layer of credibility with consumers and community. Their certification provides access to FTF’s internal system by which they themselves may now evaluate suppliers not already certified or approved. This is important, as Michael and Leah’s long-term goal is to build the business to a success level, which will enable them to hire management to run the store, freeing them to travel and seek out artisans with whom to cultivate relationships. Their new certification will serve to widen that critical but elusive market access indigenous artisans lack. They have just returned from a 28,000-mile trip to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia and are buoyed by the talent and spirit they encountered and the widening influence of Fair Trade. Do visit and support Artisan’s Village, appealing local proof of a vibrant,life-giving,life-enhancing movement quietly at work in our world. They are celebrating their first-year anniversary on April 18 and 19 at the store and will donate a portion of the days’ sales to the Johnson City Area Arts Council. Visit www.artisansvillagejc.? com ? for a journal of their work and passion for Fair Trade. Deliberately seeking out Fair Trade items for purchase is the easiest way to support this important work. Jennie Young of Elizabethton is aretired language arts teacher.

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