Full text of fair trade advocate Benjamin Conard’s talk titled “Fair Trade: A Just World Starts with You” at TEDxSUNYGeneseo conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
Benjamin Conard – Executive Communications Manager, Fair Trade USA
I want you all to take a moment and think about the things that you consume every single day.
Now, raise your hand and keep it raised if you’ve had one of the following today: a cup of coffee, keep them up, a cup of tea, a banana, something with sugar in it, or if you’re wearing cotton. Got y’all.
All right, you can put your hands down.
Now, I want you to raise your hand again, if and only if, you know exactly where or what country your coffee, tea, sugar, banana, or cotton came from. All right, we got one.
So, I think it’s fair to say that we’re all pretty active participants in the global economy because products, like those that I mentioned, are coming from thousands of miles away all around the world.
But I think it’s also fair to say that we’re pretty disconnected from the products we buy every day. And this wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the following weren’t true:
2 billion people in the world live on less than $2 a day, two-thirds of the world’s cocoa come from West African farmers that make less than 50 cents a day, 1.8 million children work on cocoa plantations along the Ivory Coast; they likely have never even tasted chocolate.
Labor laws in the developing world are either weak or not enforced; and that’s really what are driving these issues.
There’s a saying that goes; “You don’t ever want to know how two things are made – sausages and laws.” But you better start adding to this list, the coffee you had for breakfast this morning, the banana you ate yesterday, and the cotton shirt you’re wearing right now; because products like these too often come from large plantations and sweatshops, where workers are exploited.
I know, this is all pretty dismal and it’s not too fun to talk about, and it’s probably why we don’t even think about it usually.
But the good news is, there’s something we can do about it. There’s something we can all do about child labor and there’s something we can all do to fight global poverty. And it starts with you. By choosing to purchase products with certain labels, you can support business practices that share similar values with you. By choosing Fairtrade products, you support businesses who respect workers’ rights, guarantee fair wages and good working conditions, prohibit child and slave labor, and even promote environmental sustainability through the production of these products.
Now, let’s talk about choice for a moment. As a student who studies business, I am fascinated with supply and demand. I know, it’s exhilarating. People often say that large corporations are responsible for the products that we see on our shelves. To an extent, they are responsible.
But really, consumers rule the world. A business wouldn’t dare put a product on their shelf that a customer wouldn’t buy. And for this reason, consumers demand what is supplied. Consumers demand what is made available to sell. Ultimately, consumers demand what is produced.
And with that said, we have the power; and with power comes responsibility.
If consumers can demand what is produced, why can’t we demand how it’s produced? I believe that we can. I believe that we, as consumers, have the power to be responsible. But I also believe that we have the responsibility to exercise this power because, as our good friend uncle Ben from Spider-Man said; “With great power comes great responsibility.”
To prove to you that consumers have this incredible power, I want to share with you this example of the beloved Kit Kat. On the left is a Kit Kat from the UK and on the right, one from the US. Aside from some minor branding differences, these two candy bars are pretty similar. But in reality, they are immensely different.
On the Kit Kat on the left, there’s a tiny little symbol on the upper right end corner of its package; that’s a Fairtrade certification label, and that’s what consumers can look for. It’s really quite simple. European consumers so heavily demand products to be fairly traded that even one of the largest corporations in the world like Nestle can change their ways.
Let’s take coffee for another example. Second to oil, coffee is the second most highly traded good in the world. Coffee grows exclusively in areas like South America, Africa and parts of Asia, and it’s something we drink every day. From a conventional cup of coffee, farmers typically receive three cents from each $3 cup sold. From a Fairtrade cup of coffee, farmers earn five times that amount.
The switch is easy; the impact is enormous. Fairtrade is a vehicle to supporting and respecting workers’ rights. Fairtrade is a third-party certification and membership process that assures a business is meeting strict labor, environmental and developmental standards.
In addition to fair business practices, Fairtrade certification on commodities, like chocolate, coffee, tea, sugar and produce, require a premium that help fund Community Development programs, like the provision of healthcare, clean water projects, and even the building of schools.
Like Gloria here, a Fairtrade flower farmer from Ecuador, who says; “I like it here. They treat us well, pay us on time, and we even have benefits for our children, like the English courses and scholarships.”
An important distinction to make is that Fairtrade is not a charity; Fairtrade is simply a different way of doing business, in moral and ethical way. And above all, it’s a way for us to live out our values because really, every day purchases should be an extension of our values.
So where does that leave you and me? I hope you leave this talk feeling empowered to empower; because when you choose Fairtrade, you choose equality and you choose respect, and you empower producers from worlds apart. I’d like to share with you an experience I had this past fall, when I took a trip to Jaipur, India on a Fairtrade artisan visit.
India, as a country, suffers from many developmental issues, like poor working conditions, gender inequality, human trafficking, and poverty. However, India is full of life and color. I visited a Fairtrade artisan workshop, where artisans use an ancient art form to print and decorate linen. It’s called block printing.
Block printing in India is quickly dying out, due to the faster and cheaper ways to print and decorate on linen. But these artisans, both men and women, are employed using a skill that has been passed down from generation to generation, respecting their work, respecting their talent, and keeping their culture alive.
Under Fairtrade standards, these artisans are paid of a salary, something uncommon in India. They’re paid a wage, and it gives them a consistent income. And above all, it gives them dignity. Even during the wet months in India, when block printing can’t be done properly, the artisans are paid.
One of the artisans is even sending his two children to college. I am immersed in and inspired by Fairtrade producer stories, just like this, every day at home and my summer job, where I work for a Fairtrade retail store. And it is through this that I have learned, “consumerism doesn’t have to be a bad thing.” Stand for fairness and join the movement.