Myth: Fair trade products costs more.
Fact: Fair trade products are competitively priced compared to conventional trade products. Fair trade organizations are set up to provide reasonable costs to consumers, while still returning a greater percentage to producers. They achieve this by working directly with producers to cut out middlemen. In conventional trade, there are often several middlemen who handle things like designing, buying, packaging, shipping, U.S. distribution, and marketing. Large companies have different departments or partners to do all of these jobs, whereas fair trade companies handle most, if not all, of these “middlemen steps” themselves. By wearing many hats and working with small producer groups, fair trade companies are able to keep their prices down and still pay fair wages.
Let’s take a look at a few dresses first:
The Mata Traders dress is a super cute sleeveless design patterned with houses. The ModCloth dress has more details in the collar, buttons and lining, which may account for part of the price difference, but in searching through their website, we couldn’t find out if their dress is actually handmade, whereas the Mata Traders dress definitely is. ModCloth does say they adhere to ethical supply chains, but it isn’t quite clear how or if that is reflected in their pricing. Mata Traders clearly states: “Our products are handmade using artistic traditions such as block-printing and embroidery…no factory production here.”
Next, let’s look at coffee:
To get the most “apples to apples” comparison, we chose 1 lb. bags of coffee from Africa to compare. The first is from Equal Exchange — it’s fair trade and organic. The Ethiopian Single Origin from Starbucks is neither. Equal Exchange also donates $2 per bag to the Panzi Foundation, which helps treat victims of gender-based violence and educates the public about issues in the D.R. Congo. The Congo Coffee Project is a terrific roast that stands to Starbucks’ quality and flavor and by working exclusively with small farmers, Equal Exchange is able to pay farmers a livable wage, grow coffee organically, and work to improve the surrounding farm community.
We chose specific conventional trade products to illustrate our point, and one could certainly find instances where the “fair trade version” of a product costs more, but most often those instances are not apples to apples. Fair trade products are handmade using traditional techniques and often innovative recycled materials so it’s hard to find conventional trade products that share these standards. For instance, some wood photo frames we sell are handcrafted using sustainable wood and recycled glass. They cost between $20 and $50. You could easily find a photo frame at Ikea for as low as $1.99, but the quality would certainly not compare, and neither would the principles behind the production of the frame. While not everyone can afford a $50 frame, the fact that Ikea can sell a frame for $1.99 perhaps speaks more to our culture’s ever-increasing demand for more varieties, more options, and more stuff in general and less to Ikea’s demand to make a profit. Buying fair trade products not only ensures that people are paid fairly, but also reflects on the kind of world we want to live in. Does a world where we buy less, choose well, and buy fairly seem like a better world? We think so. Let us know if you agree.