Monday, October 27, 2008

Fair Trade--Is it Really Too Expensive?

I just read an EXCELLENT article in Relevant Magazine, regarding fair trade items and why it costs more to buy them. A lot of times when people hear "fair trade" or "organic" they are immediately dismissive. "Oh, that's too expensive. It's just a lot of overpriced goods that aren't any better quality than any other products."

Weeeeellllllll, actually when one purchases organic or fair trade items, they usually are of better quality. More importantly, to me at least, is that I can buy these items with a clear conscience. Fair trade items guarantee that the folks making them get paid a fair wage and that they are working in decent conditions. Many, many times the reason we in the West are able to get such "cheap" items, be it food, textiles, or other merchandise, is because the people making the goods are are working basically as slaves.

As far as organics go, there is another two-fold benefit. Not only are you not putting potentially harmful chemicals into your body, but organic farming is much, much better for the earth and environment. Organic farmers also tend to treat their animals more humanely, and to take better care of their land and farms.

Sometimes in the U.S. I feel we have a "see no evil" mentality. Just because we can't SEE what people in under developed countries go through to produce us with our cheap goods, doesn't mean we shouldn't care about what's going on. It's our responsibility to find out where our goods are coming from and decide if we want to support a company that enslaves children or has horrible working conditions for its employees. I would bet you a million dollars that no company which utilizes these types of practices is going to stand up and tell you the truth about it for our convenience. We have to become socially responsible detectives and do a little digging on our own.

With that being said, there is a true and understandable concern regarding the price of some of these items. Believe me, I'm as cheap as the next tightwad. I rarely buy something if it's not on sale and more often try to make do with something else entirely if I'm in a very thrifty mood. I also buy a lot of used items. Thrift shops are some of my favorite haunts and a great place to get some of my favorite brands of clothes (Liz Claiborne, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic) for just a few bucks. I don't really "believe" in labels, but there is something to be said for the quality and fit of certain items. However, buying used is a fairly guilt-free indulgence.

The article in Relevant also quoted J. Matthew Sleeth, the author of my much loved, "Serve God, Save the Planet" book, who (I'm paraphrasing here) says that if cost is an issue, then we should consume less and still spend our money on the more expensive fair trade and organic items. Hmm.

Consume less. Imagine that.

I'm considering doing a fair trade/organic challenge for a period of time. I haven't worked out all the details yet, but I'll keep you posted.


Erin said...

I've been thinking about this a lot this weekend after reading an awesome article by Michael Pollen in the New York Times about the necessary reform of our agriculture system. I was thinking about how in our current economic system, we rarely pay how much things ought to cost, and if we did, would we be able to afford it or would that just lead to increased poverty levels? The conclusion I came to is that buying organic, fair trade, and sweatshop free is the right thing to do, so we should find ways to be able to afford it, even if that means cutting out other "luxuries" that we've gotten used to in our cheap economy. It's going to take some hard changes, but like I said, it's the right thing to do.

ChicChick said...

I completely agree. Thanks for the link to the article, I'll check it out. I love the rolled eyes and "Oh, I could NEVER afford THAT kind of food/clothes, etc." when I mention that I am trying to buy this way. It's all about priorities, though I have to say as far as the clothes goes--it IS expensive so I tend to stick more with second-hand. Know of any reasonably priced fair trade clothing lines?

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

Like you, I've been sticking to second hand so far. I don't like buying clothes without trying it on, and most fair trade/sweatshop free clothing I've seen is only available online. I had a great idea the other day that someone needs to create a Whole Foods type store only with clothing instead of food. I think there'd be a huge market for that.

ChicChick said...

Wow--that's a GREAT idea! I think it would be popular, well, in the right setting. We don't even have a Whole Foods yet up here, but I personally would love to see a clothes store like this.