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Are Free Trade and Fair Trade The Same?

Many people seem to think free trade and fair trade are interchangeable phrases.  But they’re two very different concepts that can be hard to explain.

The Fair Trade Federation has created this brief overview of these two  complex topics.

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Women: The Backbone of Fair Trade

joyn-artisanWhenever I attend the various trade shows where many of my fair trade suppliers present their newest products, I am struck by the preponderance of women who have founded and run fair trade companies.  Their sole purpose is empowering marginalized artisans, 70% of whom are women.

A frequent comment from these dedicated women who work directly with impoverished workers is, “We don’t make a lot of money in this business, but that’s not why we’re in it.” Continue Reading »

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Poetry Embroidered on Cloth

Have you ever heard of Kantha quilting?  I hadn’t either until a couple of years ago when I saw fair trade products using the quilts.

The centuries-old technique was originated by poor women in Western Bengal to make quilts from their saris to keep their babies warm.  The quilts eventually became objects of hospitality, and even today in rural India are offered to guests in homes as a seat, serving as an expression of welcome.  Continue Reading »

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Zulugrass Jewelry and the Maasai Tribeswomen of Kenya



In 2001, a terrible drought persisted for several years in Kenya and brought devastation to the pasture lands. The livelihood of the indigenous Maasai disappeared as their cattle died.

The men had to drive the few remaining cattle hundreds of miles away in search of better grazing. The women left behind looked desperately for ways to feed, clothe, and educate their children and obtain medical supplies. Continue Reading »

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What exactly do those fair trade certified labels mean?

fair trade productsWhen you’re out grocery shopping and see a product with a logo that says “Fair Trade Certified,” what does it mean?  It depends on the logo and, because there are quite a few of them, it can get confusing.

So here’s a brief look at the major labels and what they signify: Continue Reading »

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The Basement Beginnings of the Fair Trade Movement

Edna Ruth Byler sale

In 1946, Edna Ruth Byler stockpiled a small inventory of needlework sewn by Puerto Rican women in her central Pennsylvania basement. She began selling the products to friends and neighbors from the trunk of her car. Continue Reading »

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Rescue, Refuge, and Renewal for Exploited Women

Jenny McGee, a native of Elkhart, Indiana, had been living in Asia for 4 years with her husband when a friend asked for a favor.  The friend wanted her to find a translator so she could reach out to women who worked in the local brothels.

Since Jenny was fluent in the language, she agreed to help.  Little did she know how heartbreaking the women’s stories would be and how young some of them were.

red light districtAs is usually the case with trafficked persons, the women thought they were coming to the “big city” to work in restaurants or hair salons so they could earn money to send to their families in far-away towns and villages. Instead, they were forced to live in small, dark shops and sell themselves day in and day out.

Drawn in by the women’s plight, Jenny continued her translation work.  She built friendships with them and began to teach them English.

But she wanted to do more. So she started a jewelry business where the women could make the jewelry and earn enough money to keep them off the street and work in a dignified environment. Continue Reading »

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