Fair Trade Part I - New Shoes

(the following information on fair trade is severely limited to what i know. i am no expert on the subject. i am simply trying to provide a resource for people who are interested in fair trade, but don't know where to turn for information.)
"Fair Trade is a trading partnership based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalised producers and workers... Fair Trade organisations (backed by consumers) are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade." -from FINE (Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, International Fair Trade Association, Network of European Worldshops and European Fair Trade Association).
As I gradually developed in high school from a state of naivete and apathy to an active engagement with the world, I became increasingly concerned with the impact my money was making. I became a vegetarian in an effort to remove my money from the cruel and environmentally unsustainable meat and seafood industries. Eating organic always made me feel good, even though I couldn't reasonably accomplish that on a regular basis. Clothes, however, became my most urgent concern. There was no way of knowing whether or not my threads were manufactured in sweatshops, but I desperately needed reassurance that my money wasn't contributing to the oppression of poor people halfway across the globe.

A friend of mine had seemingly found a remedy by strictly buying American made clothing. In theory I had found a solution! It became apparent, though, that buying American made apparel is much more difficult than it sounds. I quickly discovered that almost every item of clothing I needed was made somewhere else! Though overseas factories aren't necessarily sweatshops, using this rationale to buy overseas clothing is shaky at best. I might be buying union made, socially responsible clothing, but it is just as likely I'm not. I'm not comfortable with the chances. I've been reduced to buying used clothing for two years now.

Though the used clothing option isn't really that bad (here in Boise there are plenty of great thrift stores and even a trendy boutique of used clothes called The Lux) it does present a few problems. Namely, shoes. Two years ago a friend gave me his shoes. They'’ve brought me everywhere, but it has been raining lately, and my feet never stay dry. Finding good shoes at a thrift store is near impossible. Until just recently, I didn'’t know where to turn.

Just a few weeks ago, a solution fell into my lap. At the weekly Idaho Progressive Student Alliance meeting at BSU, fair trade information was distributed and discussed. I learned more about what fair trade is, where to find fair trade coffee, and about fair trade organizations such as the clothing company No Sweat Apparel. Most importantly, I discovered how to walk in new shoes without, as No Sweat states, "“stepping on the worker who made... [my] shoes."”

My shoes are union-made in Jakarta, Indonesia. A card detailing the wages and benefits of the workers was included with them. Compared to regional labor standards, the people who manufactured my shoes are treated very fairly. With their wages and benefits, there is no doubt they are able to achieve a healthy, comfortable life. (click here to see the wages and benefits of the workers who made my shoes) Not to mention my shoes are comfortable, vegan-friendly, and even trendy!

Check out these websites to learn more about fair trade, or to buy fair trade products:

No Sweat Apparel
FairTrade Labelling Organizations International
Responsible Shopper

In the next installment of this series on fair trade, I'll report on my experience with Ten Thousand Villages, an organization that "provides vital, fair income to Third World people by marketing their handicrafts and telling their stories in North America." In Boise's Hyde Park there is a Ten Thousand Villages store that relies on volunteers as staff. I'll write about my experience volunteering there as well as generally about the organization. To visit their website, click here.

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