I remember being 7 and staring down at my dinner plate that featured a mound of uneaten peas, a piece of chicken with one bite taken out of it and the sparse remains of mashed potatoes and gravy. In the many times this happened I’d proclaim to my parents, “I’m done,” and they would reply, “Are you really? Aren’t you going to finish your meal? Did you know there are other people in the world starving?”
Does the infamous “people around the world are starving” line ring a bell? As a 7-year-old, I was fascinated by this ambiguous statement. Who are these starving children? Where do they live? Why are they starving? These questions would sit in my head and stay there, never leaving the realms of my mind. The thoughts and questions about these underdeveloped countries never left my mind because the ambiguity created a buffer: It seemed as if there was a whole world between them and me. I did not know these people, I did not know specifically where they were from and I did not know why they were starving. There seemed to be an infinite distance between their life and mine, and my parents, like so many others, were just using this statement as a lesson to make their children eat their food.
Now, 12 years later, I have an answer to 7-year-old me’s questions. These thoughts no longer need to rust in my mind because there is a concrete, feasible action that can be undertaken to address the issue. The solution: fair trade.
Fair trade is a type of trade between companies in developed countries and producers in underdeveloped countries in which workers are ensured fair compensation for their labor. According to the fair trade guidelines, workers are guaranteed a minimum price for what they produce, safe working conditions, no child labor, the freedom to unionize and democratic say in the functioning of the farming cooperative. To me, these seem like pretty reasonable and fundamental rights. However, outside of the fair trade world, workers’ rights are up for grabs, and many companies are in violation of these basic guidelines.
I have discovered there is no world between these underdeveloped countries and me. In fact, I would even argue that, as the consumer, we control whether or not there is a world between them and us. In America and other developed countries, we have the ability to buy so much more than we need for cheap. As a result, we collectively overconsume as a society.
Have you ever stopped to think why the things we are able to purchase have gotten so cheap? A likely reason for this is that the people who are making these products that we purchase are being taken advantage of and do not receive fair wages.
The thing about this issue is that it is not ambiguous. We, as consumers in a demand-driven society, have all the power. We can concretely show that we are against child labor and unfair wages through the products we choose to purchase. By purchasing fair trade items, we are showing the market and the companies who are treating workers unfairly that we do care, we are informed and we’re no longer going to stand for such injustices. Yes, it’s a little more expensive, and yes, it’s a little less convenient, but it’s a way to show the world that you care.
Go buy Equal Exchange, Theo or Endangered Species chocolate instead of the Hershey’s chocolate. Check your coffee’s label for the Fair Trade symbol to ensure that the people who prepared those beans were treated fairly. These items can be found at any grocery store, including Kroger and Target. It’s not as hard as you think to be mindful about where your money goes, and the more mindful you are, the more impactful your money can be.
Emily Kracik is a first-year psychology major from Park Ridge, Ill. She is a staff writer for the Newswire.