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Fair trade is saving the planet through products and a culture of change. The movement started with one woman, Edna Ruth Byler, who helped poor clothing makers in Puerto Rico. From there, the first fair trade shop, named Ten Thousands Villages, opened in 1958. Today it is the largest fair trade retailer in this region.
In the 1980s, representatives from the United States and Canada met to form the North American Alternative Trade Organization (NAATO). They held regular meetings and discussed topics relevant to fair trade and standards. Then in 1994, the Fair Trade Federation was born. Starting in 1997, organizations like Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO), Fair Trade America, Fair Trade USA, and Fair For Life were established to set and enforce standards for fairtrade operations.
Although there are many fair trade organizations, they each share the goal of providing fair wages for farmers, making labor conditions safer as well as protecting and repairing the environment. Fair Trade USA says their goal is to “become better stewards of the land.” They do this by implementing systems and environmental standards to help farmers preserve natural resources as they farm the land for food and other products.
What Qualifies as a Fair Trade Product and How are They Made
When a company or a farm decides to sell fair trade products, they must change the way they operate to satisfy a few standards. First, they must improve both the soil and water quality. Secondly, they must manage pests without the use of any chemicals and pesticides. They are also responsible for managing waste and reducing greenhouse gas emissions while also protecting biodiversity. Some third-world countries use high-pressure water systems to save plants from being eaten by insects.
These directives might seem like a handful, but farmers are continuously finding innovative ways to comply that not only allow them to sell fair trade products but also help the earth. Many fair trade farmers engage in reforestation programs to put back what we are depleting. Fair trade representatives also prohibit certain agrochemicals, and they teach farmers in other countries to grow plants healthily without pesticides and herbicides. One way is to plants trees next to other plants to provide nutrients and shade.
Other initiatives designed to help farmers while reversing the effects of global warming are climate change adaptive training programs. Wildlife conservation projects are also part of the overall process and factor into fair trade operations. Farms are finding ways to reduce water usage and switching to green energy fuels as well to reduce their carbon footprint as they produce goods.
The most critical requirement when producing such products is that the company must create its wares with ethics in mind, treat employees fairly and pay them appropriately. The company’s goals must be in alignment with economic stability, ending slave labor, environmental improvement and health, and wellbeing.
Climate Change and the Effects of Fair Trade Commerce
Here in the 21st century, we already see the results of dramatic climate change in severe weather conditions, extreme heat, and diminished air quality. Sadly, these conditions are most likely going to get worse before they improve. Anyone with existing health conditions may worsen because of global warming, and new health crises may develop before we get it under control.
As the earth’s temperature rises, clean, fresh water sources dry up. In already diminished areas, the lack of water creates disaster for the people living there. Everyone needs access to fresh water. Industrial production of products puts more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and makes the problem worse. When companies embrace fair trade philosophies, they reduce the number of harmful gasses and waste, slowing the erosion of our environment.
Fair trade companies are going back to basics and reducing water usage, helping to preserve our quickly depleting resources. The more we put back and save, the quicker the effects of climate change can slowly start to reverse. These companies also plant lots of trees that help purify the air of pollution. Collectively, all of the actions taken by fair trade organizations make a substantial positive impact all over the globe, not just in disadvantaged areas but in the developed world too.
Our natural resources of water, air, oil, trees, and healthy soil are being depleted faster than we can restore them. Perhaps not in our lifetime, but if a change is not enacted quickly, one or all of these resources could completely run dry. If that happens, we would all be in serious trouble.
Thankfully, fair trade organizations support the science behind groundbreaking inventions that could help. For example, two new methods of providing fresh, clean water are being developed right now. One would improve the efficiency of farming equipment to use far less water, helping to preserve natural reservoirs.
The other method would create fresh water from ocean water that is cleaned and desalinated making it safe to drink. Another technique being tested is farming water directly out of the air. A group at UC Berkeley and the Berkeley National Laboratory are testing a device that collects water from the atmosphere even in places with low humidity. This invention could be life-changing for some ravaged areas.
Fair Trade is a Win-Win All Around
When you buy fair trade products, you are making a point to support organizations that are working hard to save our planet. A label certifying fair trade does not just mean organic or healthy, it means extra care went into the production to create a quality product while at the same time helping to support a viable environment, now and later.
Fair trade focuses on all different aspects of the creation of products and their effects on the planet. It factors in soil and water consumption and conditions, GMOs, agrochemicals, pests and waste along with biodiversity and carbon emissions.
Growers, educators, planners, and all the people in between that make fair trade great all work off the same mission of human rights, fair pay, independence, low environmental impact, and sustainability for the future.