I can still remember the first time I heard the phrase “fair trade.” It was at my first job in 1999 at a small independent coffee shop in my home town of Shingle Springs, CA. A hip woman in her 30’s, who seemed ancient to me at the time, asked me if our coffee was fair trade. “Fair trade?” I thought to myself. The next year I started college and I quickly answered my questions about fair trade, as well as global economic issues. In the last decade, fair trade has come a long way in my life, especially through Autonomie Project, but the movement itself has made tremendous strides.
This year ushered in a new year and forced us to reflect on the last decade. In the last ten years fair trade products have expanded beyond coffee to rice, flowers, and olive oil to name a few. Demand and sales have grown exponentially, growing three times as much in the later half of the decade. But perhaps more importantly, the real life impact of fair trade has been huge. The Fairtrade Foundation published a review of fair trade benefits in the last ten years. The review examined case studies, most in coffee, and most of the cases showed serious economic, social empowerment, and environmental improvements with fair trade policies. This means fair trade is directly affecting and improving people’s lives and changing the way we structure our world.
It is not to say fair trade is perfect, in fact it should be a system constantly improved upon. Since it is clear fair trade meets most of its goals, the next decade should focus on expanding fair trade, as well as perfecting the policies. I have high hopes for the next few years, as the US now has garment certification, which will include some of our products. This is really exciting and could mean the beginning of several more products. Also, the conversation has already started about how to improve fair trade requirements and new certifications.
Looking back at the last decade is hopeful and encouraging. Let’s see how much more we can improve upon our current system and new products, as well as new countries where fair trade can make an impact. This is our world and we need to influence the way the world is treated. Now is the time to start and let’s start the teens right!