The following was written by Angelique Saavedra of the Global Exchange Fair Trade Store in Berkeley.
The history of the labor movement in the United States is filled with ambitious, hard-working Americans planting the seeds of their dreams in hopes for a prosperous future. In 1894 in Pullman, IL the employees of the Pullman Company railroad car factory walked-out, marched and demanded access to decent living wages and safe working conditions all to no avail after their strike was declared a federal crime. But that didn’t stop protesters from taking an unpaid day off to promote the holiday and when President Cleveland gave into their demands, Labor Day was born!
But there is still a lot of work to be accomplished. For example, the 2011 struggle in Wisconsin for state worker’s bargaining rights is proof that we are far from actualizing labor justice.
Additionally, international obstacles need to be addressed and overcome before everyone in the world can equally enjoy the recognition and fruits of their labor. As world trade crosses borders, the labor movement calls for recognition of labor standards around the world. In many places around the world, farmers and workers still struggle for living wages and hazard-free working conditions. One way to support those farmers and laborers is through Fair Trade —a pathway toward a more just labor system.
By purchasing Fair Trade products, consumers are participating in an alternative economic trading system that, according to Fair Trade USA, is oriented toward empowering farmers and workers everywhere. Today consumers have a choice that has the ability to stimulate the livelihoods of the individuals who toil for coffee, cocoa, vegetables or handmade crafts.
Products that are Fair Trade Certified are guaranteed to support safe working conditions, access to health care and sustainable incomes. These wages allow producers, especially women artisans, to save money and keep their children in school. Some Fair Trade cooperatives in various countries specifically support education-related developments, such as building schools, financing uniforms and tuitions or providing healthy meals for students.
For example, according to Equal Exchange, The National Confederation of Dominican Cocoa Producers, an organization in the Dominican Republic, is able to use its premiums for community development projects. Members distribute their income to purchase school supplies, build wells for community water and obtain the appropriate medicine for their health clinics.
Another tremendous benefit of Fair Trade is that it is not simply charity. Small producers gain autonomy by developing long-term trading relationships and no longer have to rely on international aid efforts, which can be inconsistent and scarce due to the vulnerability of the fluctuating global market.
Therefore Fair Trade is a crucial component to the labor struggle. By supporting Fair Trade, consumers are agreeing to advocate and demand opportunities for those living in poverty—dispersing wealth to those at the bottom of the pyramid—the 99%. In doing so, lives are positively transformed and connected to the global market, ultimately working toward the intended goal—to alleviate poverty.
This Labor Day season you can show your support for hard working individuals everywhere by shopping Fair Trade. Check out Global Exchange’s Labor Day Sale at a store near you.