Fair Trade and Localism

Last week Chicago celebrated World Fair Trade Day with a two-day marketplace in Daley Plaza, featuring a dozen fair trade vendors from around Chicagoland.  WBEZ’s Worldview show broadcast live from the marketplace, hosting Chicago Fair Trade and other related groups as guests – including Local First Chicago.  (You can check out the show here.) 


The fair trade movement is needed by the power imbalance in our economy.  Giant corporations have shaped our economy such that some people end up working for nearly nothing in sweatshops, because they no longer have family land to farm, or family shops to run, or a family trade to carry on.  The money generated by their labor goes to make executives and stockholders rich, while the factory workers live at a subsistence level. 


The fair trade movement educates consumers about how this system works, so they can make the conscious choice to purchase products from organizations and companies that pay the makers of products a fair wage for their work.  Often this means they are selling handcrafts or the products of cooperatives – in both cases, situations in which the workers have ownership of their own enterprise. 


The localist movement applies the understandings of fair trade to our local situation.  We’re all about independent small business – where ownership and control are again local, which is also good for the local economy.  A small business owner chooses what to do for a living; creates their own working conditions; and receives the benefit of their own work.  These are the same goals held by the fair trade movement.  We encourage people to buy from locally owned independent business because it helps ensure economic self-determination, just as buying from fair-trade vendors does. 


We are partners in the fair-trade movement partly because we share the same goals, but also because we share the same approach: consumer education.  If people have an idea where their food, or hat, or handbag, or coffee is coming from, they’re going to care more about the people producing and selling it.  That can mean the weaver in Guatemala, the farmer in Tanzania, the bookstore owner in Hyde Park, the grocer in Bronzeville.  And if they care about the people who make and sell their stuff, they’ll pay a little attention to whether in their shopping they are buying from companies that are locally-owned or not, and sourcing fair-trade or not. 


Creating consumer awareness requires partnerships: we need an economic system of fair-trade makers, wholesalers, and retailers; we need small businesses at all those levels too.  We need media partners – radio, TV, print, Internet – to help get the message out about the need to shift our economy back toward one in which people have economic self-determination.  We need graphic designers, nonprofit fundraisers, foundation grantmakers, thoughtful public policymakers, event planners, printers, writers, photographers, web designers, economists, clergy, ethicists, teachers, volunteer coordinators – all kinds of people and organizations, to help with this giant project of education to help the public understand who gets exploited by our economy - and the ways in which we can make it more fair for everyone. 


Whoever might be reading this: you’ve got a role to play in localism, in choosing to spend your money with locally owned businesses – and if you’ve got a little time and energy, in building the movement for economic self-determination.  Contact us if you want to get more involved!