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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Confession

So I have a bit of a confession to make. I don't confess my crap enough because, Ted will tell you, I really like being right. I like my opinions to be heard and I like thinking that they are right. (And that others think they are right too. Thanks for appeasing me dearest of friends as I know you have oh so often).  Even my most humble of moments aren't that humble. My intention here wasn't to confess about my lack of humility, although, hey, if I can rack up two confessions in one day, well, I may be good for the whole year. Hell yes.

My intention here is to say this: I thought I knew it all about Fair Trade USA and I was wrong.

Maybe it's Paul Rice's suave personality. Maybe it's his compelling anecdotes. Or his 15 years of hands on experience with farmers in Nicaragua. He's also a pretty smart businessman and not to mention, a good dresser. (it's true. Check out the video of him above.)

But I don't think that's it.

It's his point--that until now, fair trade been too exclusive. It has primarily been a tool, not for the poorest of the poor, but for farmers who are part of cooperatives. To be part of a cooperative you first must own land. If you own land, you aren't the poorest of the poor. So, unbeknownst to me, fair trade hasn't really served those who need it most- those living on a dollar a day. In fact, fair trade has excluded those folks. It's been for cooperatives only. What about people who don't own land? What about people, for whatever reason, don't want to join cooperatives?

I've had this naive image in my mind of a coffee picker in Guatemala who lives in bonded labor, picking coffee beans for pennies a day. Then one day, the plantation he works on gets fair trade certified. And all of a sudden he's making a livable wage. He's no longer a slave. He can send his children to school, put food on the table. Fair trade has revolutionized his world. That's not really happening. Under FLO's model, farmers must first own land. These land owner then must be organized in cooperatives. They must have governance and leadership. And then they can get the fair trade certification. That's a lot of steps to meet before getting paid a fair wage! 

 And it's for these reasons that Fair Trade USA left FLO and decided to be more inclusive of all laborers.

It just clicked for me during our interview. He's got a good point. And they've got a good plan. Read more about it on their website:

So am I anti FLO's model with cooperatives? NO WAY. Am I pro Fair Trade USA?  I think so. I think I am. Both models have a place in this movement. It's uncertain if certifying plantations is a great thing to do, but it's worth a shot. 

My interview with Paul Rice comes out tomorrow on Just Means and 3BL Media. I'll post the link to it on here late. It's really raunchy, in a social justice debate kind of way. It will give you a lot to chew on for sure.

In the meantime, say a prayer for me. I'm putting together a plan for research on the impact of fair trade on the lives of Palestinian olive farmers and I basically don't know what the hell I'm doing. And I'm trying to learn some Arabic. And we leave in 3 weeks. And it's finals for Ted and new classes for me. OMG.
Such beautiful first world problems these are....

Lots of Love.