Published in the Spring 2005 issue • Advice
My parents are spying on me!
Continued from page 1
Why are fair trade products so expensive? How can I make a difference without spending too much?
It’s hard to be a conscientious consumer. The majority of the products we enjoy, from sneakers to coffee, are made in developing countries where nearly everything is produced under sweatshop-like conditions with few labour laws, low wages and sometimes abusive conditions.
In contrast, fair trade member organizations buy from small producers who pay their workers fair wages and generally employ methods of production that are environmentally friendly and sustainable. Some fair trade members also provide financial and technical support to local producers. This can take the form of loans, training and education programs. Most importantly, fair trade businesses return a quarter to a third of their profits back to the producers in developing countries.
Fair trade products are often more expensive because of these added costs. But it could also be argued that the higher price of fair trade products reflects the “real” cost of production — costs that many large corporations cut out of workers’ salaries or benefits.
The main fair trade products available in Canada are coffee, tea, chocolate and cocoa, which are available in health food stores and some grocery stores. Many items carry a “fair trade certified” logo, making it easier to find them on the shelves (see the logo at www.transfair.ca).
If you’re looking for gift items, Ten Thousand Villages sells fair trade handicrafts (jewellery, toys, incense and furniture) from indigenous artists on its website at www.villages.ca and in stores across Canada. Even some big-name companies (such as Starbucks and The Body Shop) stock some fair trade products.
As a conscientious consumer, you may also want to consider other equally important issues, such as buying items that are GMO-free (see Stir It Up, page 15), certified organic, not tested on animals, sweatshop-free, union-made and so on. Being fully aware of all these things is not easy. I still think it’s worthwhile to be informed; just bear in mind that no one can sustain a totally conscientious lifestyle.
For myself, I aspire to consume only what I need and buy only things that I love. I am not always successful in these aspirations. Reducing my consumption levels is a major challenge, but I think this is where not having a lot of money has been a blessing. It’s forced me to really think about what I need, what I want, and how to make the best of what I have.
In the end, maybe making a difference doesn’t have to be about how you spend your money, but about how you don’t.