Stories in the news about child labor and negligent working conditions are alarming, to say the least. But what can we do about it?
Published: September 30, 2017
By: Stephanie Rodda
Like mine, most families need to make every penny count. Budgets require finding the most bang for our buck. But sometimes the price of an item that we purchase does not reflect its true cost. Our bargain item may represent less than fair wages for the overseas workers producing it, possibly even exploitation.
Stories in the news about child labor and negligent working conditions are alarming, to say the least. But what can we do about it? Can we make a difference with our purchases? A few of us might be able to make drastic changes in our spending habits and support fair trade. More of us, however, can make decisions to buy at least a portion of our goods from companies who commit to safe and healthy work environments free of forced labor. Any of us could help to increase awareness.
A few months ago, I met Amy Hawk, a local mom with young children who is a teacher by profession, at a craft fair. Her table displayed Trades of Hope products. I was unfamiliar with the company she represented, but was intrigued by one of the bracelets that she described as being made of recycled strips of cereal boxes and clay beads. The clay used for the beads, she explained, was the same clay that was used to make dirt cookies for hungry children in Haiti. I bought the bracelet and began to research the dirt cookies she referred to.
What I discovered was heart-breaking. Mothers preparing dirt cookies to feed their hungry children. I watched documentaries and programs that filmed this practice. Extreme poverty had led to these desperate measures. And this was just one example of why businesses like Trades of Hope who partner with fair trade groups and ministries are having a tremendous impact on women and their families across the world. They are not non-profit or a charity and yet they are making a difference. So can we.
Often when we hear about fair trade we think of the farmers and the workers they hire in other countries. We may even think of cocoa, as that was a big news item a few years ago. But fair trade also includes individual artisans that craft their goods to earn money and avoid alternatives like work houses or even begging on the side of the road to survive.
There are many companies who aspire to support these artisans and their efforts to support themselves. Trades of Hope is one of them and according to their website, approximately 40 percent of the world’s population exists on $2 a day. They explained why they are dedicated to fair trade practices. “The principle of fair trade enables people around the world to receive a livable income that covers their basic needs, which include food, shelter, education, and health care for their families.”
As for me, I decided to choose birthday gifts, Christmas presents and even items for the home from some of the creative and talented artisans that Trades of Hope and companies like them support. When my son’s fiancé had a birthday, I ordered the Cora bracelet made by empowered artisans in India. When my girls wanted new journals, I purchased the Kancu Leaf Journal set that is filled with handmade paper and has real leaves from Nepal on the covers. I was proud to tell my daughters about the women who are working hard to become self-reliant as they craft such items.
Every time I purchase something beautiful that was made by a mom, who just like me, wants to provide the best she can for her family, I say a prayer to bless their efforts and determine not to forget that bargains aren’t always my best choice. Some ladies, like Amy Hawk, have joined the companies they represent as compassionate entrepreneurs. They not only participate in craft fairs like the one we met at, but also make it possible for individuals like you and me to host parties online. Not only does this increase sales and improve the futures of the artisans, it increases awareness of why fair trade is worth taking note of.
Not all of the artisans are in other countries. There are some right here in our own. Victims of human trafficking and women in need of recovery here and abroad, also craft products that are available for purchase. One of the most noteworthy is the handcrafted soap by women from the red light district who have made a ‘clean break’ from their previous lifestyle. They mark their products with their thumb print.
“We have over 13,000 artisans we support,” Hawk says. When she recently attended the Trades of Hope conference in Memphis, she was able to meet some of them in person and hear their stories. One of the ladies, Katrina, was a part of Thistle Farms in Nashville. She made a powerful statement that Amy shared with me. “They loved me until I loved myself.”
If we open our eyes and notice opportunities to purchase fair trade goods, we may be surprised at just how easy it can be. Local retailers will carry goods that have the fair trade logo for coffee, chocolate and other items. Popular Christian artist, Lauren Daigle, has partnered with 3 Seams and displays their products at her concerts. Elegantees also works to provide hope to overcomers of sex trafficking with a positive source of income through the clothing industry. Right here in Birmingham is Sojourns, the first (but not only) wholly fair trade store in Alabama.
Sometimes, we might feel a bit overwhelmed by the injustices of the world. This is one that the average person can help make right. Fair trade purchases can become a regular part of your spending influence. Lives can be impacted. Our world can be made better. Now, that’s what I call a real bargain.
Stephanie Rodda is an author, freelance writer and adoptive mom of seven. She lives with her family in the Birmingham area. She blogs at stephanierodda.wordpress.com and has a devotional writings page on Facebook.