October is Fair Trade Month. We asked Renee Bowers, Executive Director of the Fair Trade Federation (FTF) and a WARP member to answer a few questions about fair trade, textiles, and the best way to make a difference.
WARP: How would you describe the FTF in five words?
Renee Bowers: Strengthen fully fair trade businesses.
What is the biggest challenge in bringing fair trade goods to market?
RB: Fully fair trade businesses like our members are working against unsustainable practices that have become the norm in conventional business. Unfortunately, most shoppers have come to expect certain things from bigger brands, such as lightning-fast production, near constant trend turnover, and impossibly low prices. Fair trade partnerships aren’t always easily understood because we’ve stopped thinking about where the things we eat, wear, and use come from or how they’re made. At the FTF, we believe that if good businesses practices were more celebrated, demand for fair trade goods would really increase.
The fair trade movements has its roots in marketing textiles. What role do textiles play in the movement today?
RB: Textiles still play a huge role in fair trade! Many shoppers want things like rugs, bags, clothes, and other fabrics and artisans around the globe have exceptional skills and talents in making these very items. Although fair trade has expanded over the years to include, coffee, chocolate, food, and personal care items, handmade craft products are still a core area of fair trade—especially in the US and Canada.
Most importantly, fair relationships continue to be an essential means of supporting weavers and garment makers in developing countries.
The majority of WARP members are individuals that make textiles themselves and have a strong affinity for the people that make textiles. Our members often ponder how to use their skills to help fair trade cooperatives thrive. Any advise?
RB: One of the best ways to have an impact is to buy products—including textiles—from fully fair trade businesses. While this may not always feel as direct, you can rest assured that the income from your purchase makes a huge difference to the lives of textile artisans.
In terms of sharing expertise, I’d recommend first taking advantage of a fair trade travel/volunteer opportunity. A few opportunities with FTF members include:
Women In Progress, an international volunteer organization
Global Exchange, responsible travel opportunities
What is the difference between an organization being a member of the Fair Trade Federation and a product being fair trade certified?
RB: Certification is a system that audits worksites—primarily farms—for health, safety, and labor compliance. Certification does not speak to the business practices of the company that sells or markets the product in North America.
The Fair Trade Federation is a membership organization that celebrates the whole business. We believe that fair trade requires a deep commitment to poverty alleviation, including direct trading relationships with small scale artisans and farmers. Businesses in the US and Canada go through a rigorous screening process in order to become members. This screening is a holistic evaluation o the businesess’ fair trade practices.
To find a full list of members, visit the Fair Trade Federation’s website.