What are you wearing?


A few posts ago I mentioned that there are many different products that can be Fair Trade. So far we have discussed coffee and chocolate.  Now I want to talk about something that I personally had never thought about prior to one year ago.  In fact I prided myself, as many of you probably do too, on what great deals I could get and how much I could find on sale. So when I read that cotton was listed as a Fair Trade product on Fair Trade USA I thought, huh? Oh, yeah, cotton is picked and it seems like anything that is picked can be Fair Trade.

What’s all the fluff about cotton, you say? (I know, that was bad).  Well, often developing countries are the top producing countries of cotton.  China and India being the top 2 (US coming in 3rd). And just like with cocoa beans, cotton must be picked.


Often the cotton in these countries is sold at extremely low prices.  These countries cannot compete with the prices that developed countries can sell it for.  The top 3 cotton exporters are the US, Africa, and Uzbekistan.  So, if the US is the #1 exporter of cotton why is it so difficult to find any clothes that are actually made in the USA?  Out of curiosity I started to fold a basket of the boys laundry, and not one article of clothing said “made in the USA”.  About the same time we were putting together shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child.  These shoe boxes are sent to children around the world that wouldn’t otherwise get anything for Christmas.  We wanted to send an article of clothing in each box and could not find anything “made in the USA” at Meijer.  Not one thing! Well, even though the US makes plenty of cotton most retailers out source their clothing to be made in other countries, not surprisingly, because it is cheaper.  But often, cheaper equals abusive working conditions wrapped in oppression. Whether it is forcibly employing children instead of sending them to school, or women falling asleep at their sewing machines because they are forced to work 16 hour days, often there are no workers rights or regulations ensuring that these people are treated as human beings.

The more I have looked into this problem the more determined I become to no longer purchase clothing that is not fair trade. The apparel industry has not made the strides that the coffee industry has however, and the supply chain is convoluted and often more difficult to follow up on to ensure workers’ rights.  Also, most fair trade stores are on-line which is not ideal when you want to try something on.  So an alternative is to use the Free 2 Work app.  This is an app that is free to download and use.  It lists many of the industries that are fair trade and assigns a grade from A-F to brands within that industry.  So, when we went to Kohl’s last weekend to use a giftcard, we took our ipod and looked up brands to see what grade they got.  The ratings are based on four categories:  policies, transparency & traceability, monitoring & training, and workers’ rights. It is not a comprehensive list, but at least you can make a more informed decision about that brands commitment or lack of toward ethically made apparel.  For example, when you need to buy new socks or underwear, choose Hanes (A-) instead of Fruit of the Loom (D). When you are at the mall shopping for new jeans choose Levi’s (B) instead of Express (D).  And for those of us shopping for kid’s clothes (this was really shocking!), think twice before you purchase that great deal on Carter’s, Child of Mine, or OshKosh (all get a D-).  There is a reason you are getting such a great deal.  It is costing someone!  A great alternative to the more expensive Fair Trade online stores or the low ratings of the previous brands is second-hand clothes!  There is no higher score than second-hand– always an A+!

That sounds like a lot of work you might be thinking.  And you are right.  Shopping Fair Trade, whether for coffee, chocolate, or clothing does take some extra time and thought.  But I am motivated to do it. Otherwise, we may care about the poor and even give to great causes on one hand, and with the other be contributing to the oppressive systems that are keeping them in poverty. Will we do it perfectly?  No, but I believe our purchases really can make a difference.  As long as consumers only care about what the price tag says businesses and brands can continue to use supply chains that rob people of respect and a descent life.  I don’t want to wear something that plays a part in that!

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The Dark Side of Chocolate


I am a chocolate lover like every good citizen, but when I discovered how our chocolate is made it didn’t taste so good to me anymore.  Chocolate is made from cocoa beans and  70% of the global supply originates in the Ivory Coast (West Africa), where the US Department of State reports that over 109,000 children are under the “worst forms of child labor”.  Some sources estimate over 200,ooo children are forced to harvest these cocoa beans every year.  The conditions these children work in are horrendous.  They are exposed to dangerous pesticides, forced to use dangerous equipment, obligated to work long hours which means they are not in school, and not paid enough to live on.

So who are some of the offenders?  Hershey’s, Nestle, Kraft, M&M Mars, General Mills, Ghirardelli, and Godiva.
Hershey’s, who controls 45% of the market on chocolate, has known this to be a problem for over 10 years now and they used to claim that it’s not their responsibility to make sure that the beans aren’t coming from child slaves.  Now they are no longer taking this stance, yet they have only made 1 of their products Fair Trade.  One product out of hundreds.  They are currently being sued over their practices of using child slave labor.  After years of pressure and campaigns such as “Raise the Bar, Hershey!”, Hershey’s has claimed that all their chocolate will be Fair Trade by 2020.  While this is a victory, that doesn’t help the children that are still chocolate slaves for the next 7 years. Also, Hershey’s has been known to not keep their previous promises of moving toward ethically sourced chocolate.  In 2001 they promised to eliminate child labor chocolate.  Now they are saying they need more time, while refusing to open their records on where their chocolate beans come from.

What is the solution?  We can change our chocolate habits!  We can purchase only Fair Trade chocolate whether we are baking, giving out treats at Halloween, or biting into a chocolate bar.  Whole Foods has decided to do this.  They no longer carry the Hershey’s product Scharffen Berger.  Green & Black chocolate is Fair Trade and conveniently sold at Kroger. They have a wide flavor assortment.  Their white chocolate bar is the best I have ever tried.  (Often Fair Trade products will be better quality products.)

white chocolate

Dagoba hot chocolate is sold at Meijer and is amazing.  It has a little chili pepper in it that gives it a unique kick!hot chocolate

You will pay more for these products, however, won’t it taste better to know that you are not supporting such a horrendous practice? I am committed to no longer buying any chocolate that is not Fair Trade.  I will also not buy any desserts that are made with chocolate that is not Fair Trade.  We can have a voice with what we purchase!  As long as consumers continue to buy Hershey’s and other non Fair Trade brands, they will continue to make the product.  If it begins to affect their bottom line then they will make a change.

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Starbucks- Friend or Foe?

Starbucks, Kraft, Sara Lee, Nestle, Proctor & Gamble.  The top 5 coffee purchasers in the world.  Starbucks alone purchased 428 million pounds of coffee in 2011. So does Starbucks purchase Fair Trade beans?  This was the question on my mind after I decided to no longer buy coffee that was not Fair Trade.  Would I have to break up with Starbucks?  After watching Black Gold, a documentary about third world coffee bean farmers, I was ready to call it quits and never cross the threshold of a Starbucks again.  But then I decided to calm down and check when the movie was made–1996.  Well, maybe Starbucks has made some improvements since then.  (Highly recommend the movie. You can rent it at the website)  So, I did some research.

Starbucks does have a Fair Trade blend.  It is called the Italian Blend.  I have not seen it in stores yet but they do carry it in the shop.  You can ask them to brew a cup for you in the french press.  I haven’t tried this yet but I plan too.  Starbucks in the UK and Ireland are much more progressive.  One article I read said that all of their coffee is Fair Trade but I want to verify that.  Here in the US however, they are being pressured by activists to start to make more of their coffee Fair Trade.  According to Starbuck’s website they use C.A.F.E. practices which stand for Coffee and Farmer Equity.  They claim that often C.A.F.E. practices and guidelines are more stringent than Fair Trade.  They say that Fair Trade works with small scale farmers whereas Starbucks purchases from larger coffee bean conglomerations.  This sounds great in theory but it is coming from Starbucks itself.  I’d like to find an unbiased publication.  It is important to note though that like Fair Trade a third party is brought in to verify that the standards and guidelines are in fact being kept.  So of that 428 million pounds purchased last year, 86% were from C.A.F.E. Practices-approved suppliers.  So I’m not going to break up with Starbucks as of right now.  I think they are moving in the right direction.  I am going to start asking for the Fair Trade brew though.  Even if they have to make it special.  It’s all about supply and demand.  If more people start demanding Fair Trade products, then we will start seeing more on the shelves.

That brings us to my next question.  Is coffee the only product you can buy Fair Trade? Nope, there are lots of others out there.  Let’s start talking about them…

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Land of a Thousand Hills

Some of you have let me know that you are now buying Fair Trade coffee! Whoo hoo!  That is fabulous!  In fact, whenever you buy a Fair Trade product post a comment on this blog and let me know!  I have a secret number in my head and when the nth person posts they bought a Fair Trade product I am going to buy you a bag of Land of a Thousand Hills coffee and mail it to you.  Land of a Thousand Hills is an amazing organization. landofathousandhills.com They pay the farmers even more than what Fair Trade does.  The company started in 2001 to help people in Rwanda rebuild their lives after the genocide of 1994.  Now they are in Haiti and Thailand too.  If your church serves coffee on Sunday mornings why not talk to them about serving Fair Trade coffee?  Land of a Thousand Hills specializes in this.  My church, Life Bridge, serves this coffee and purchasing only 3 bags a week changes 1 farmers entire life.

The other thing we can do is every time we go into our favorite local coffee shops we can ask them if they have any Fair Trade coffee. If not, request that they carry a Fair Trade coffee as an option.  The local ones around here are Higher Grounds, Dunkin  Doughnuts, Firefly Cafe, and of course Star Bucks.  Star Bucks is one of the top 5 largest coffee bean importers.  So do they buy Fair Trade?  I’m glad you asked.  Yes and no.  That will be in the next post.  🙂

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What is Fair Trade?

If you have seen this symbol it is probably on a bag of coffee.  Most people connect Fair Trade with coffee and that is because Fair Trade has gained the most ground in the coffee industry for good reason (get it? most ground?).  That is where it started!  The Fair Trade symbol means that the product you are purchasing has guaranteed a fair wage to the producer (the farmer).  This has become a really big problem.  Since 1989, after the Cold War, The International Coffee Agreement was abolished taking with it a guaranteed price for coffee around the world.  Now the coffee bean price is subject to the World Trade Market which is substantially lower than what is considered a “fair wage”.  (The laws before 89′ set the price at $1.20/lb. and market price is $.85/lb.) Despite the world market price, how much do you think the typical farmer gets paid per pound for his coffee?  Ok, wait.  Before we answer that question let’s ask a different one.  How much do you think a farmer needs to make in a third world country to meet his basic needs?  Basic needs meaning enough food to not be hungry, obtain clean water, and be able to afford to send his children to school?  One dollar and ten cents per pound.  Now back to the original question.  How much do you think the farmer is actually getting paid per pound?  TWENTY CENTS.  That’s right.  $0.20/lb.  That is because 90% of coffee is grown in underdeveloped countries and bought by industrialized countries.  These countries, such as the US, come in and offer a ridiculously low price to the farmer.  The farmers that are small scale family farms have no voice.  They are simply trying to survive;  feed their families, etc.  To say no to these horrendous prices means not putting food on the table.  Also, these simple farmers are not equipped to market themselves or demand a fair price.  They simply do not have those skills.

Fair Trade has come in and cut out the middleman (more on that later).  They guarantee the farmers approximately $1.26/lb. and $1.41/lb. for organic beans.  Fair Trade means these farmers are not only able to put food on their tables and send their children to school but are able to build a school in their community so their children will not continue the cycle of poverty.  They are able to provide a better life for their children.  It doesn’t matter what color your skin is or what economic level the world tells you you are in, everyone wants to be able to provide a future for their children.

So, in light of all that, are you telling me that purchasing coffee with a Fair Trade symbol assures me of all of that?  Yes, that is exactly what I am telling you.  Isn’t that exciting???  And one more thing.  Fair Trade coffee isn’t even more expensive than the average bag that is sitting on the grocery store shelf.  You don’t even have to drive across town to your local hippie Co-op.  🙂  All Meijer organic brand coffee is Fair Trade and is competitively priced.  Green Mountain is another brand that has a Fair Trade flavor.  But remember, it has to have the Fair Trade logo on the bag for it to be Fair Trade.  So the next time you are standing in the coffee isle at your local grocery store, before you reach for that cheaper bag of Folgers or Maxwell House remember that someone is paying the price for it.

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I have a blog

I’ve thought about starting a blog in the past but never felt like I had anything to write about that would validate people checking it regularly.  But now I do and I’m excited!  I’ve become really passionate about Fair Trade and the more I talk about it with people the more I realize that people want to hear and care about it.  Also, some of you asked me to start a blog (some of you meaning 1 friend), so even if this blog only makes Audrey a convert to buying Fair Trade then it was a success!

So, my hope is that this can be an outlet to post what I am continually learning about Fair Trade Products and that it is informative and actually motivates some people to start thinking more critically about their purchases.  The subtitle of this blog is “Reducing Poverty through Everyday Purchases” (I had to go back and look) and I really believe this is true!  I am going to post at least once per week sharing a little bit more each time about what I have learned and continue to learn about Fair Trade.

So let’s get started…

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