By Mary Beth DanielsonFor RacinePost
I am amazed at the dialogue my writing started. Go ahead, sling verbiage; churn through the topic at hand. This conversation about the morality of our shopping choices is a conversation this country desperately needs.
Here are more thing to consider.
Free trade and Fair Trade are not the same thing.
Free trade is when governments make agreements to trade with each other without imposing too many tariffs. Consider the ramifications of CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement). If a company can make gizmos more cheaply in Guatemala than they can in the US and then import them for no or very low tariffs, it “makes more sense” to close the North American factory where workers were earning $14/hr, move the whole shebang to Guatemala City where people work for $1.25/hr.
What happens when that occurs? Well, at first there’s more cash for the Guatemalan worker - but not enough to afford a decent life.
Children have enough to eat,
go to school, have a real childhood
when their mothers work.
Families leave the rural areas where they were desperately poor and malnourished, but they had the support systems of relatives, friends, maybe some land on which to grow a little food. Now they have to live by cash, they can’t afford housing, childcare, or enough to eat. So they live in flimsy slums where life is a misery.
Meanwhile the U.S. worker is laid off. He or she will probably eventually get another job but in today’s economy, it will probably pay less. Now the North American worker’s strategy for survival is to buy cheaper things at cheaper places; i.e., the cheaper gizmos from Guatemala.
What just happened here? Who got richer? Somebody out there is now raking in $12/hr profit on each hour the Guatemalan works.
There’s a phrase for this. “The rich get richer.”
Fair Trade is a global movement to bring dialogue, transparency and respect to international trading.
- The person who makes the product should earn a livable wage.
- Kids don’t do the work.
- The environment is considered and protected in work processes.
Few of us can afford the effort or cash it would take to research every shopping choice we make. But all of us can understand this. When we buy a Fair Trade item – somewhere in the world a worker has more work to do tomorrow to replace the item we bought today. If that work pays a living wage and is done in decent circumstances, we have helped to make the world better for someone else.
We love to talk about our values. For most of us, the most frequent moral choices we make are where we will spend our money. Fair Trade shopping is one option to put our money where are values are.
I’m stumped to understand why attempting to make the world a little better for hard-pressed people in very poor nations seems so aggravating to some.
(And for those who think this is a money-making opportunity for me – I and the others in town who host these sales all do so as volunteers. I have a full-time job, this is extra. So is the writing for it.)
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