Sitting on the floor with my Ethiopian-born daughter a week before Easter, I wasn't thinking about the global economy. With many helping hands, we were pouring bag after bag of jelly beans onto the floor and separating the brightly colored candies into a rainbow of colors. Painstakingly, several of us struggled to pick out a single bean and transfer it to its appropriate pile without making a mistake. But not my daughter. In rapid fire succession, she was pouring, sorting and flicking each bean into its matching pile with uncanny accuracy for a 10-year-old.
When I inquired about her skill, she described a scenario which made me both proud and sad all at once. It seems her Ethiopian birthmother held several jobs to make ends meet; and one of those jobs was in a coffee warehouse. People sat on the floor in a big room, surrounded by giant piles of green, unroasted coffee beans. It was the role of the workers to sort out the good beans from the bad, and her birth-mother excelled at it.
Occasionally, my daughter sat alongside, learning the tricks of this ancient Ethiopian trade which, according to the Fair Trade Labeling Organization (FLO) is the livelihood of nearly 15 million Ethiopians. It was tedious, tiresome work, but its wages helped pay for necessities such as food, clothing and school fees.
As October is Fair Trade Month, I thought about that story often during the month-long program highlighting fair trade, which compliments World Fair Trade Day practiced around the globe in May.
According to the Fair Trade Resource Network, "fair trade is about more than just paying a fair wage. It means that trading partnerships are based on reciprocal benefits and mutual respect; that prices paid to producers reflect the work they do; that workers have the right to organize; that national health, safety, and wage laws are enforced; and that products are environmentally sustainable and conserve natural resources."
Widely traded products such as coffee, tea and chocolate are predominantly "Fair trade certified." As programs grow and develop, additional products such as sporting goods or produce may become available.