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Indy embraces fair trade practices and products

Posted on 03.27.2013

The fair trade movement began in 1946 when a group called Self Help Crafts began buying needlework from Puerto Rico. This started a movement for other groups such as the Sales Exchange for Refugee Rehabilitation and Vocation also to trade with poorer communities. According to the World Fair Trade Organization’s website, this was the beginning of today’s fair trade movement.

Many fair trade organizations say that the definition of fair trade can be contested, but the idea is to promote fair prices and reasonable conditions for producers of primary goods in developing regions.

Fair trade organizations work to give workers fair wages, safe working environments and other benefits that they might not receive in other workplaces.

According to Fair Trade International’s website, sales from fair trade grew 15 percent in 2008. In 2009, fair trade sales accounted for $3.4 billion worldwide. Today, more than 1.2 million producers and workers in 58 developing countries benefit from fair trade sales.

Junior communication major Amanda Musgrave learned about fair trade during high school and worked with a fair trade organization called Center for Global Impact over the summer.

“They [CGI] work with people in Cambodia, providing them with training and research to make different materials and bring them back here and sell them, which is really what fair trade is about,” Musgrave said. “It’s giving people a fair price and compensation for the work they do instead of cheating them out of something that they need for their income.”

Musgrave said that CGI also works with people to write to companies to give them information about fair trade. This tactic is intended to bring awareness about where resources come from, practices used to get these resources and other human rights that are not protected. Musgrave said that this helps keep both herself and companies accountable.

“That’s something I’m really passionate about. I feel a call to advocate for things that I know about,” Musgrave said. “Because I feel like it holds me accountable too. I know this is happening, and I have looked into it and understand what is going on. So now I want to share it with other people, and kind of have them feel led to ask other people.”

Indianapolis offers several fair trade stores, one being Global Gifts. Global Gifts has two locations in Indianapolis, one on Massachusetts Avenue and another on 86th Street, as well as a store in Bloomington. Julie Edwards has been the manager at the Global Gifts on Mass Ave for eight months. Edwards left corporate America to be involved in nonprofits. Her store represents approximately 42 countries and is completely nonprofit. Edwards explained that there are eight criteria for fair trade stores, but one main mission.

“Basically they [the criteria] all describe conditions where the people who make things are compensated at a fair rate for what they are doing, that they’re able to work in a safe, clean environment and that the resources that at times are made from the earth and is considered in terms of then being renewable or recycled. We respect the people who made it [the product] and respect the place where it came from,” Edwards said.

Some fair trade products in the store include recycled paper made from elephant poop in India,  recycled saris from women saved from the sex trade industry in India, cards made of recycled paper by African children orphaned by civil war and chocolates made on African farms that are owned and operated by local farmers.

Fair trade facilitators look to limit the hands that touch a product before it is in the hands of consumers. Edwards said the more hands a product touches between the producer and consumer, the more the producer’s profit is limited. Edwards said that other retail stores have as many as 13 hands on products between the harvest of a resource and consumers. Fair trade, however, has as many as three. Edwards said that this makes prices fair and benefits consumers and artisans.

“With fair trade, because we’re predominantly nonprofit organizations,  we’re not trying to make a profit. What our goal is [is] to pay the artist as high a price as we can afford to pay them for it [the product],” Edwards said. “So instead of getting paid pennies for something, they’re getting paid $5 for something. Our other goal is to sell it for as low of a price as we can possibly sell it for, because we want to sell as many of them as we can sell so this artist is getting lots of new orders coming in so they can support themselves.”

Emily Wiltse found Global Gifts online after moving to Indianapolis. She now works there and enjoys the empowerment that some of the products give to the artists.

“Women’s Bean Project is based in Denver. So we don’t have a lot of fair trade stuff that comes from the U.S., but that’s one of them. They employ women who are underemployed, [who] had just gotten out of prison or single moms who don’t have a lot of skill sets or maybe education. So not only are they employing them and giving them job skills, but they’re training them for when they leave Women’s Bean Project,” Wiltse said.

The Women’s Bean Project is a nonprofit that teaches job skills and produces handmade jewelry and gourmet foods.

Global Gifts on Mass Ave also holds events for First Friday,  including product sampling, musicians from countries represented in the store, educational videos and more. Global Gifts works with other nonprofits  and shares products and ideas with other fair trade stores. This sharing benefits the artisans.

“I worked for another nonprofit before this, and it was a lot of relief aid, which definitely has its place,” Wiltse said. “But as I was working there [I] really caught a vision and a passion for sustainable aid to people and ways to empower people to provide for themselves, and to make a better life for themselves without doing it in a way that is belittling to them. I think fair trade is a really great avenue for that.”

Musgrave said that giving back can help one spiritually, and that people should look into supporting their local fair trade stores.

“There’s something really healthy for the human spirit to give to people. So when you give to people, it makes you happier and keeps you healthier, really,” Musgrave said. “The people who needed something are getting something in return from you. So they are able to be  brought back up into society and to have education and just [get] daily needs met for them and their families. So I think it just equalizes out these two demographics that really can connect and make the world a better place.”


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