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Celebrate World Fair Trade Day

May 2, 2008

Celebrate World Fair Trade Day

Bamboo containers, silk scarves, jewelry and stuffed animals are among the many gift and home décor items available in the Fair Trade and World Goods store, located inside Garfield Book Company at PLU. While not all the products are fair trade – the store is also home to Scandinavian goods – the fair trade items are hand made, which means no two items are exactly alike. Plus, all have stories to tell of the people and the places from where they come.

“The fun thing about fair trade is the showing and telling, getting to share about the person or group who made the items,” said Karen Giguere, the bookstore’s merchandise manager and buyer.

Giguere will happily disclose these stories, and if she’s not available, printed cards near the products inform shoppers of the history. Items are made in Africa, Asia South America and even the United States, and are purchased through nonprofit organizations such as Ten Thousand Villages, A Greater Gift and A World of Good.

“There is some confusion about what fair trade is and isn’t,” said Kelley Valdez, the bookstore’s community connections manager. “There’s a misunderstanding of how big it is and the impact it makes.”

In an effort to combat that misunderstanding, the Fair Trade and World Goods store hosted a World Fair Trade Day Celebration on May 10, a day recognized by the International Fair Trade Association.

Throughout the day, staff were on hand to explain what fair trade is, and samples of fair trade goodies were available. All fair trade products were 10 percent off the listed price. Valdez said the discount didn’t cut into the producers’ margins.

Other events included a Fair Trade Tea featuring samples of several varieties available in the store; a children’s story time that included a fair trade lesson and gift; and a live performance of world music.

At the most basic level, fair trade refers to workers being paid a fair wage, Valdez said. Giguere quickly noted a “fair wage” is relative to where the workers live, and the wage can’t necessarily be compared to those in the United States.

Most fair trade operations are co-ops or groups of artisans, where decisions are made democratically and everyone has a stake in the business. The co-op sets their product’s retail price, and portions of the proceeds go directly to the farmers or artisans and are reinvested in the community.

“It’s a community endeavor,” Giguere said.

Typical supply chains include a producer, buyer, distributor and retailer to get an item to the consumer. Fair trade essentially cuts out the “buyer” function, allowing the distributor to buy directly from the artisan and cut costs, Valdez said.

“It’s why they can pay a fair wage and still charge a reasonable price for their products,” she explained.

Most products are certified as fair trade through the Fair Trade Federation or the International Fair Trade Association. By visiting the production sites often, both organizations monitor how the goods are made and the wages paid. The entire process is transparent and verifiable, Giguere said.

Not all items in the store are certified fair trade, yet many are still considered to be fair trade goods. Characterized by Valdez as a “homegrown, organic” process, it involves PLU students, faculty or staff visiting a site, seeing how items are made and disclosing the information.

The store is currently working with the Wang Center for International Programs to create import avenues for PLU, Valdez said. Students studying away who meet artisans will have the opportunity build a relationship and possibly bring the items to store.

“This is an outlet for students to get in contact with the community around us,” Valdez said. “Be that Parkland, or be that the global community.”