Archive - December 2011

Fair Trade Your Chanukah!

In less than two weeks from now, we’ll be gathering around our menorahs, playing dreidel, eating potato latkes (and jelly doughnuts), celebrating the festival of Chanukah. Chanukah comes from the word meaning “dedication”, and refers to the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabee’s battle for religious freedom.

On Chanukah we not only celebrate our people’s freedom, but are also called upon to re-dedicate ourselves to work for the freedom and liberation of all people. Making consumer choices based on fair trade principles provides a powerful opportunity for us to act on our Jewish values.

When we buy Fair Trade products, we know that:

  • Artisans and farmers are paid a fair and livable wage
  • No child labor is involved
  • Safe working conditions are provided
  • Environmentally sustainable production methods are used.
  • Profits are reinvested into the community for education, health care, and social services /li>
  • Communities become self-sustaining and can raise themselves out of poverty

Here are some specific Fair Trade products you can choose to use this Chanukah:

Dedicate one night of Chanukah to learn more about fair trade and how it has positively changed the lives of artisans and farmers using these resources:

We all have the opportunity to create miracles in this world!

BIG News in the Fair Trade Movement

Fair Trade USA (FTUSA, formerly Transfair) announced earlier this fall that it is resigning its membership in Fairtrade International (FLO), the international fair trade certification organization. FTUSA, the dominant certifier in the U.S. market has been a key member of the FLO since 1998 when it was founded; its certifiying label is widely recognized on fair trade products in the U.S. It has launched a new initiative, Fair for All, which expands fair trade certification to coffee laborers on plantations.

History of the Fair Trade Movement

Beginning roughly around the 1940s, Fair Trade as we know it today, began in reaction to the exploitive trading relationships and harsh working conditions that were common in many tropical commodities industries (coffee, chocolate, and sugar to name a few). Direct trade relationships were initiated by church and community groups in order to create direct trade relationships with producers, effectively creating an alternative supply chain parallel to conventional trade. These alternative trade relationships created direct partnerships among producers and consumers and were defined by better prices, longer-term contracts and personal relationships.

The movement spread to countries all around the world — including the US, Canada, countries in Europe, New Zealand and Australia — and, eventually, national Fair Trade groups such as Fair Trade Canada were formed. In 1997, these national groups joined under one umbrella organization called the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International headquartered in Bonn, Germany. The FLO has since changed its name to Fairtrade International.

In 1998, the Fair Trade label was born in order to help producers access more markets for their products, which catapulted Fair Trade towards the success it’s had to date. The Fairtrade Labeling Organization in Germany sets the standards for Fair Trade products, and FLO-CERT (a separate company) ensures that these standards are met by producers’ organizations around the world. In all the respective countries where Fair Trade goods are sold, local organizations (like Fair Trade Canada here, or the Fair Trade Foundation in the UK, for example) ensure that only products that meet the FLO standards bear the Fair Trade label.

Implications and Response

One of the FLO’s most important functions has been to set Fair Trade standards, which has ensured, that from Vancouver to Beijing, consumers know exactly what the Fair Trade label represents. The system hasn’t always been perfect, and the FLO, along with its member organizations, have done a lot to reform the standards to ensure that all stakeholders in Fair Trade are represented – especially producers and producer groups. Fair Trade’s most famous standards have been financial ones: the Fair Trade minimum price and the Fair Trade social premium, but that’s not all Fair Trade is about. One of the most celebrated Fair Trade standards has been the requirement that producers organize themselves in democratically run co-operatives, where all members have an equal voice in the way business is done and the way the Fair Trade premium is spent. These cooperatives have become powerful forces in Fair Trade, and have helped producers pool together resources and discover power in numbers that otherwise might not be available if they were working independently.

FTUSA’s resignation from FLO is highly significant:

  1. This is the first time since the birth of the FLO that any national organization has decided to leave the unifying umbrella network that the FLO has provided since the late 1990s.
  2. This is the first time ever that a national organization has decided to split from the FLO to unilaterally develop its own standards for a given product. Furthermore, the standards that Fair Trade USA has decided to develop for coffee do not include a requirement for producers to be organized in democratically run cooperatives.

FTUSA’s decision to leave FLO has been met with predominantly negative reaction from most sectors of the fair trade movement. You can read statements from a variety of organizations on the Fair Trade Resource Networks’ website

*** Thanks to Fair Trade Vancouver for this overview

The Story Behind Fair Trade Kosher Chanukah Gelt

I Recently returned from a wonderful week of Jewish community and learning at the National Havurah Institute. As I was preparing for a workshop I taught on community investing (a project from earlier in my work life), I found a connection with the fair trade world, bringing together two of my passions!

It turns out that Oikocredit is one of the world’s largest sources of private funding in the microfinance sector. They also provide credit to trade cooperatives, fair trade organizations and small to medium enterprises in the developing world.

Kuapa Kukoo, now a cooperative comprised of more than 45,000 cacao farmers in Ghana, was formed In the 1990’s. Over the years, it grew into Divine Chocolate, Ltd in England, the only farmer-owned chocolate company in the world. Sufficient profit was made that the farmers in the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative began to receive dividends beginning in 2007. In addition, the fair trade premium pad for cocoa is used to construct and improve drinking water wells, primary schools, and other community projects decided by the farmers themselves.

When Divine Chocolate decided to enter the U.S. chocolate market in 2006, Oikocredit stepped forward with investments in the new division as well as a line of credit. In the past 5 years, Divine US has become a significant player in the fair trade chocolate market, including being the largest provider of Fair Trade Kosher Chanukah gelt!

New Fair Trade Principles

The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), the international network of organizations (those making Judaica products, not food products) demonstrating a 100% Fair Trade commitment, recently published a detailed description of their “Ten Principles of Fair Trade“.

These include:

– Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers

– Transparency and Accountability

– Fair Trading Practices

– Payment of a Fair Price

– Ensuring no Child Labor or Forced Labor

– Commitment to Non-Discriminatin, Gender Equity and Freedom of Association

– Ensuring Good Working Conditions

– Providing Capacity Building

– Promoting Fair Trade

– Respect for the Environment

We Want More From Our S’mores!

Summer has arrived. I just returned from a week in Minnesota, where it’s so hot you can melt chocolate on the sidewalk!

One of my favorite memories as a child was practicing how to make the absolutely perfect s’more (marshmallow gooey but not burned, and getting it onto the graham cracker before it fell off) using a Hershey chocolate bar. But since I learned about forced child labor in the chocolate industry, it doesn’t sound very delicious anymore. Tens of thousands of children work in cocoa fields, exposed to hazardous conditions where they spray pesticides without protective gear, use sharp tools, and sustain injuries.

The GOOD news: There are lots of fair trade Kosher chocolates to choose from, and child labor is prohibited in fair trade certification. I’m looking forward to enjoying my first delicious fair trade s’more this weekend!

Hershey’s is the only chocolate company in the U.S. which is not using any fair trade cocoa beans in its products. Join Fair Trade Judaica and the Jewish community in encouraging Hershey’s to support fair trade and child labor-free chooclate.

Let us know what you’re planning to do!


Chocolate Need Not be Bittersweet

I haven’t been quite the same since I watched “The Dark Side of Chocolate” DVD last September at the international fair trade conference in Boston. I had heard that children were involved in harvesting cocoa, the same cocoa that makes the chocolate bars that I love in my s’mores every summer. But who wants to believe that chocolate could be so bittersweet in that way?

The Movie documents Danish journalist, Miki Mistrati’s journey to Cote d’Ivoire to investigate these allegations. And what you see on the screen is quite disturbing. Not only are children working in the cocoa fields, but many are trafficked there, working involuntarily, and in hazardous conditions.

One moment your heart is broken, then inspired by the courage of others trying to stop the trafficking. And then outraged, when the chocolate company executives solidly deny these claims, even though Mistrati has captured all this on film.

Last September I brought home a copy of the DVD, part of the Raise the Bar Hershey campaign, inspired to spread the word. Fair Trade Judaica has developed an entire resource section called “Bean of Affliction: Chocolate, Child Labor, and Choosing Fair Trade“, which provides background information, ideas for raising this issue at Passover seder, and campaigns to promote fair trade chocolate (including Kosher for Passover chocolate!).

And since last September when I saw “The Dark Side of Chocolate”, I have only purchased Fair Trade chocolate – even the dark chocolate tastes sweet!

The Crisis of Cotton: How Fair Trade Responds to Rising Costs

Artisan Lila preparing cotton thread for her loom.

If you haven’t heard already, you will soon feel it in your wallet. Rising cotton prices due to a global cotton scarcity, as well as the rise in production and labor costs are affecting the worldwide textile industry. In the last year, the world witnessed devastating natural disasters from the floods throughout Asia, Australia, and the United States. In addition, apparel market prices have not increased to keep up with the real cost of production. Many of us will see a 10-15% increase in the cost of clothing. From larger textile manufacturers, to small fair trade importers, companies are looking for alternative materials to continue production in the developing world. For fair trade companies, continuing sustainable partnerships is key to economic justice for artisans.

MayaWorks, a nonprofit fair trade organization working with approximately 125 indigenous artisans in Guatemala, has also been affected by the rise in cotton prices. MayaWorks’ artisans rely on high quality AZO-free cotton threads for the majority of their fair trade products. Many companies have discontinued cotton thread production due to the volatility of the market. Because it is our goal to provide steady, sustainable and fair work for our artisan partners, MayaWorks is responding with creative solutions.

MayaWorks is responding to the crisis by creating strategic short and long term production solutions in partnership with Guatemalan staff and artisans. When our major supplier shut its doors, Guatemalan staff immediately looked for other local thread cooperatives. Still, this is only a short term solution and cotton prices continue to increase. MayaWorks staff in the US and Guatemala have begun to collaborate with local design companies to source natural, reusable, and eco-friendly materials available in Guatemala. These materials include jute, recycled cotton, and natural seeds for jewelry. We have also met with local talent, including design consultants and university students. Other solutions include discontinuing production of larger, less popular woven items, and investing in smaller, functional products.

Other fair trade companies like Greenola are facing similar challenges. Jennifer Moran, owner of Greenola, sources fashionable, fair trade and eco-friendly products from South America. “We were unable to sell our REALLY popular cotton crocheted scarves as the price would have doubled!” In reaction to the global cotton scarcity, Greenola is focusing on smaller accessories and jewelry. They are also training partner cooperatives to learn new skills such as sewing, so that they have other types of work and focusing on products made of alpaca. Artisans are focusing on simpler designs, staying away from high detail, labor intensive items.

Sustainable Threads is a fair trade company working with artisans in India. Harish and his producer groups have also faced difficulty as much of their products are made with organically certified cotton. “Not only are the prices of cotton going up but also the labor costs for production are increasing at the same time.” “We plan to discontinue [some products]. In some cases we have reduced the design work on the product, so the prices are still workable to sell in the US market.” Sustainable Threads is also planning on working with recycled materials and products.

Fair trade companies will need to respond to this situation quickly, and look for alternative materials that are more eco-friendly and sustainable. There is no telling when the cotton crisis will subside, but many forecasters are predicting a difficult year ahead.

Written by Naomi Czerwinskyj, MayaWorks Product Manager