Checking labels has never felt so guilt-driven.
by Meredith Sweet | WAR, Int’l intern
It used to be that people never questioned the ethics of the companies from which they purchased products. We assumed—if we even thought about it at all—that every industry, from clothing to food, was treating its suppliers with fairness and dignity. But in recent years, consumer awareness has been raised as one news article after another has told a different story: large corporations habitually oppressing indigenous populations for the sole purpose of making more money. These days, most consumers are trying to buy things a little more ethically.
The Fair Trade movement, which has been around since the 1950s and began to take hold in the U.S. in the early 2000s, emphasizes supporting individuals and communities by providing equitable wages and safe working conditions. Fair Trade products, often demarcated by a shiny “Fair Trade Certified” sticker, can receive verification from a number of different corporations, the most prominent being the World Fair Trade Organization, Fair Trade International, and Fair Trade USA.
Yet as admirable as the Fair Trade movement is, it still leaves something to be desired: a human connection. At Women at Risk, International, we don’t merely market beautiful products for an ethical cause; we reach out to women both nationally and internationally to offer them lives of dignity, hope, and value. We call this concept “Beyond Fair Trade.”
Selling products that are Beyond Fair Trade means that our partners offer more than equitable wages and safe working conditions—they offer lives of dignity and self-sustainability through holistic programs that provide physical, emotional, spiritual, and economic support.
For example, in addition to receiving a full day’s wage, women in our partnering safehouses also receive counseling, health care, and child care, along with vocational training and education. Those in our partnering microenterprise programs may receive health care, educational scholarships for themselves and/or their children, and micro-loans or grants to begin their own businesses. Many of our partners base wages on the average salary of a local elementary schoolteacher, placing the workers’ income levels well above what others may earn in their line of work. Described as an “empowerment wage,” this allows women to support themselves and their families, break negative cycles, and create lasting change.
Thanks to generous donations and dedicated volunteers, WAR, Int’l funnels at least ninety percent of its profit from product sales back into domestic and international programs. The artisans who create our products come from difficult circumstances around the world: at-risk mothers in the Caribbean sew beautiful bags while their daughters attend school, Ugandan widows create beads and buttons to support their families, and sex trafficking survivors in Thailand spend their afternoons making jewelry. Each woman, no matter her situation, receives empowerment and support through our partnering programs.
October is Fair Trade month, and we want to celebrate that with you. Here’s how you can help us spread the word about the advantages to shopping regular Fair Trade and Beyond Fair Trade:
- Visit one of our local boutiques – Purchasing our Beyond Fair Trade products lets women know that their work is valuable. Bring friends and family to shop at our two stores in west Michigan, or make purchases online using our store website.
- Host your own party or event – Increasing awareness and product sales is essential to empowering the rescued and at-risk. $300 in party sales can sustain a woman in an international safehouse for one month!
- Volunteer at WAR, Int’l Headquarters or events – Giving your time to help those in need grants us the ability to reach more people around the globe.
- Enjoy a beverage or snack at our Tea Trade Café – Helping can be as simple as drinking a cup of coffee. Each purchase at the café, located next to our Wyoming, MI, boutique, helps fund our domestic and international programs. Featuring certified Fair Trade tea and coffee along with baked goods, the Tea Trade Café also serves as a training ground for women in our local program who desire to learn barista and business skills. Join us in supporting the community and providing circles of protection around wounded women. Each purchase helps fund our domestic and international programs.
This October, remember that Fair Trade (and Beyond) doesn’t end with corporations: its success depends on you, the consumer. Don’t stick to just reading labels – use your purchasing power to buy Fair Trade and Beyond Fair Trade, impacting women across the world and providing them with economic growth and hope for a sustainable future.
*Note: While our tea, coffee, chocolate, and a few other items are certified Fair Trade, most of our products cannot be certified. This is only because we cannot control the sources of the materials that our partners use. However, we can say with confidence that each of our partners operates on the basic fair-trade principle of empowering rather than exploiting workers and that all of our products go “Beyond Fair Trade”!
Updated October 2019 | Originally posted October 2016