Fair Trade Part 3: Why Fair Trade?

August 19, 2010

Over the last two days, I’ve discussed here and here some of the structural economic challenges in the developing world. Today, I want to talk about why I think that Fair Trade is a helpful solution in dealing with poverty in the developing world. This post only makes sense in the context of the previous two blog entries.


So, we have an uneducated (or under-educated) population. Significant unemployment (outside of Free Trade Zones and sweat shops). Struggling healthcare. Environmental injustices. Your best options have you living well below the poverty level.

The developed world often approaches the developing world as a problem to be solved- we come in with our ideas about how they need to be fixed. Here’s the thing: it’s not that people in developing countries don’t have great ideas about how to solve their own problems. They do. They have smart people just like we do. They’re just working with both hands tied behind their backs. It’s really, really hard to get ahead as an individual and as a country if you have poor healthcare and poor education. They are smart. They have ideas. We need to listen to them. Find out what they need. Support them as they solve their own problems. I’m not being glib- there are many obstacles, to be sure. Brain drain (where the best and the brightest move to the west for education- and then wind up staying there) and corruption are issues that have to be addressed. But, we can’t give up.

We need to be thinking about what we can do to support innovation in the developing world. What can we do to support them as they create their own industry? As people in the developing world create their own industry, I’m hopeful that we’ll see some real solutions to poverty. Job creation. Hopefully more resources for education. Improved healthcare.

I think that Fair Trade is a part of this. Supplying a market for goods made in the developing world. Pay them a wage that they can live on. It’s a win/win for the producer and the consumer. Frankly, if you go into your local big box store and buy an item of clothing, unless it has a union tag on it, it’s really hard to know if it was made in a way that exploited neither a human nor the environment. If you buy an item that is fairly traded, you can be sure that everyone from the person who extracted the raw ingredients to the person who crafted the item was fairly compensated. It’s not without its problems, but I think that it’s a step in the right direction.


So, what and who has influenced my thinking surrounding development and Fair Trade?

Probably the first person I need to mention is my friend Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, who is a Political Science professor at the University of San Francisco. We’ve had lots of conversations on our morning walks surrounding the issues that I’ve been discussing over the last few days. I remember quite well our pre-dawn conversation where she introduced me to structural adjustments. It was in the context of explaining the need for the non-profit Akili Dada that she founded and runs. Akili Dada was founded in large part to address the educational inequities which were exacerbated by Structural Adjustment Programs in Kenya.

I’ve mentioned Life and Debt before. But, it’s a documentary worth seeing. While the negative tone towards tourists has irritated some reviewers, I think that the documentary is worth your time. Stephanie Black does a great job of illuminating the economic, social and political climate in Jamaica.

Wikipedia is my friend. And, it’s been very helpful for me in understanding more about a lot of things- including economic challenges in the developing world. I love the transparency and the open format. Indeed, the open source format lends wikipedia credibility (multiple authors and peer review are a part of the package).

I’ve also been influenced by Annie Leonard’s book The Story of Stuff. You may have seen her viral internet video from a while back. Her book hashes out her arguments in much greater detail.

Bill McKibben’s books have also influenced my thinking on consumption and stuff. The books Hundred Dollar Holiday and Eaarth have been both helpful and informative. As I write, Deep Economy is waiting to be read on my bed side table.

I also want to mention some new friends.

Click here if you want to read about the story behind Trade as One, which was started by Nathan and Catherine George. They are already doing what my husband and I are hoping to do.

Also, Todd Johnson is thoughtfully blogging about economic development in Ethiopia on his Business For Good blog.


To read the other two articles in this series, please click on the links below:

Fair Trade Part 1:  Structural Adjustment Programs

Fair Trade Part 2:  Free Trade Zones and Sweat Shops



One Response to “Fair Trade Part 3: Why Fair Trade?”

  1. […] Prize from the Institute for the Study of Social Change at the University of California, Berkeley. As I’ve stated before, Wanjiru has had a huge impact on the way that I think about development and aid in the developing […]

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