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What “Create Opportunity” means in the fair trade world: Fair Trade Federation principle #1

Fair Trade Principle #1

Part of a series explaining the nine principles of the Fair Trade Federation.

Create Opportunities for Economically and Socially Marginalized Producers

If you know anything about fair trade, you know that its most basic concept is to create opportunities for people who are economically disadvantaged or who exist on the edges of society.

I could write a thesis on the definition of economic disadvantage. But it’s easier to give a few examples of what it means in the third-world countries where fair trade is at work: 

  • Living in a box or on the edge of a garbage dump
  • Sharing one bowl of rice with your family of 10 as your only meal each day
  • Getting paid pennies for working 20 hours a day in a sweatshop factory
  • Living without clean water
  • Walking 20 miles or more to get medical aid

This kind of existence implies exclusion from the rights and opportunities afforded those in better circumstances.  But you don’t have to be poverty-stricken to be socially marginalized:

  • Women in many cultures are not allowed to leave their homes. They’re considered economically insignificant because they can’t contribute to the financial well-being of their family.
  • Certain indigenous groups are denied rights because of long-simmering ethnic feuds.
  • Women who’ve escaped or been rescued from human trafficking are ostracized and unable to support themselves since they have no skills.

Fair trade works to alleviate both this abject poverty and social exclusion by creating opportunities for economic self-sufficiency.  These opportunities take many forms:

  • Teaching skills such as sewing or making jewelry to trafficking survivors and marketing their creations to a broad audience.
  • Helping artisans form co-operatives to leverage their financial status so they can get loans for expansion.
  • Working with already existing co-operatives or small businesses to educate them on various economic skills designed to grow their businesses.

To understand how these opportunities impact the world’s poor on a personal level, nothing is better than the words of the women* who are the beneficiaries: Fair trade jewelry artisan in Guatemala.

  • “Before I came to Starfish, I forgot how to laugh and cry. Now I feel secure and safe.” —Human Trafficking Survivor in Southeast Asia
  • “If I weren’t doing this work, I would have no way to feed my children.” —Mayan jewelry artisan in Guatemala
  • “My husband has to travel far and often to make money. Now that I work with the Tikas Co-operative, I am able to work from home, making a living and caring for our children while he is away.” —Bolivian jewelry artisan
  • “We used to spin the silk threads by rubbing them across our thighs. It was very painful and took a long time.  Now our fair trade partner bought us pedal-operated spinners. It is much easier and we enjoy our work more.”–Silk scarf artisan from the Jharkhand forest tribe in India

*Thanks to the Starfish Project, Lumily Fair Trade, Greenola Style, and Sevya for the use of these quotes.

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