Fair Trade, a niche market or hand out?

5″ x 7″ watercolor in a 12″ x 15″ frame, $220 ($10 donated to Just Creations)
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Following a recent knitting demonstration given by a visiting finger puppet artisan from Peru, I found myself engaged in a healthy mental jostling with my boyfriend over a macro view of fair trade. The word “subsidy” was tossed around a few times by my business-minded debate partner. The comment section below is his space for rebuttal, but my impression of his position is that the market determines the price of a product; if there is no demand, it’s elbowed out of the market. If it’s highly valuable, the price mirrors that worth. The sustainability of fair trade was the theme of the conversation and brainstorming what model truly best serves the marginalized producers of the endless products we consume.

Within reason, you could call me a proponent of self-governing business, unencumbered by government regulation that can systematize businesses and stifle innovation and creativity. Few people would believe I actually believe that statement since most often I’m arguing for regulations that prevent large companies and other power-players from using their disproportionately heavy monetary influence to manipulate the system to work in their favor. If we can’t trust people to act morally, the government has to babysit and wag a finger at gluttonously self-serving business. We wouldn’t have offer subsidies on such a large scale if more people were given the opportunity to take care of themselves instead of being held in oppressive, compromising positions by businesses profiting massively from their labor.

I argued that if people were 1. adequately informed consumers and 2. financially able to choose more healthy and ethically produced products, the market would indeed “correct itself” and make room for products with a more equatable division of profits between producers and distributors. Only then we wouldn’t have to call it “fair trade” because that would be redundant.

There are an abundance of fair trade options for consumers to utilize as their voice in telling the market, “I want and will pay for products that ensure the producers get a fair wage.” Most cities have a fair trade retail store and multiple fair trade coffee shops (in Louisville it’s Just Creations and Heine Brothers Coffee). For online shoppers, ’tis the season (nearly) to start gift giving. Consider these fair trade suppliers as you vote with your credit card for just and fair wages to the people making your sweaters and throw pillows:


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