Monday, January 26, 2009

What will the real change be?

A Strange Campaign Over an Uncertain Constitution
written by Jim Schultz, Democracy Center

Bolivia is ten days away from a national vote that by all measures ought to be a historic watershed – to approve or not a sweeping new national constitution.Yet the streets are quiet. Neither here in urban Cochabamba where I work nor in rural Tiquipaya where I live, have I seen anyone handing out leaflets. There are no auto caravans roaming the streets with loudspeakers. There are no armies of campaigners wearing Si! or No! t-shirts. I've seen no announcements for big rallies in the stadium. All of the usual trappings of popular Bolivian election campaigning seem to be hiding in hibernation somewhere, as if everyone just sort of forgot.How would Jesus Vote?The airwaves however are a different story. My television watching friends (since television is the devil I don't own one) tell me it is wall-to-wall propaganda by both sides, most of it so over the top that facts aren't even a light consideration.One ad, seeking a No vote, touts a bloody fetus and declares that the new constitution would legalize abortion. It doesn't, nor does it come close to doing so. Another ad shows two men kissing, beckons voters to "not be a part of the sin" and urges a No vote. The new constitution includes vague language about discriminatation based on sexual orientation. The best ad of the bunch features side-by-side images of President Evo Morales, the constitution's main promoter, with Jesus Christ (who to my knowledge has remained neutral so far). Declaring that the new constitution eliminates religious rights (another, 'it doesn't') the ad asks voters, "Whose side are you on?"Jesus, who has not run for public office in Bolivia, is a popular figure here.Morales and his MAS party aren't staying out of the exaggeration Olympics in all this either. Their ads proudly proclaim that the new constitution would put the nation's natural resources into the hands of the people. But the actual articles, especially after the huge compromises made in October, leave things a good deal mushier than that.A Long Way from the Original VisionThe Bolivian demand for a new constitution did not begin this month or with the election of Evo Morales in 2005. It has been a demand for decades from the nation's long-marginalized indigenous majority, who see in the current constitution the vestiges of legally-enforced privilege and of old colonialism.Their vision of how a new constitution would come about is almost tragically different than what has transpired. Their dream was of a process outside of politics, a Constituent Assembly of citizens from their communities that would mirror the communitarian decision-making process of their pueblos. In the end they got their constituent assembly, though one so dominated by political parties that you had to be a member of one to be a delegate. Then even that went out the door as political parties met behind closed doors in Cochabamba and adopted 100 amendments, as part of a desperate reach for a compromise that would pave the way for the January 25th vote and steer the nation past the bloody conflicts that broke out over the constitution and other issues in September.As many critics have noted: If this was government of the people, by the people and for the people, it was a really small number of people who made the decisions.What would the New Constitution Really Mean?With 411 separate articles, stretching across a range of issues as wide as the imagination, the number of people who genuinely understand the real implications can probably be counted on two hands. I am not among them, nor have I ever had any desire to be. Nevertheless, if one listens to the various proponents and critics, and talks to any of the genuine experts, the big issues seem to come to this:Political ReformsYou want my opinion? I think it really all came down to this, issues of how the political playing field would be laid out that will affect the fortunes of politicians and their constituencies for decades to come.Evo wanted unlimited opportunities for reelection, or at least two (the current constitution forbids back-to-back terms for President). The opposition wanted none. They compromised on one reelection term, in a vote that would take place next December.MAS wanted to abolish the Senate, the opposition strong hold, and have a unicameral Congress. The opposition likes the status quo. They compromised on increasing the Senate by nine seats and establishing, for the lower house, that a certain undetermined number of districts will be reserved for indigenous community representatives, elected in a manner to be chosen by those communities according custom.Land ReformThis was going to be the 'big enchilada' of constitutional reform, or one of them. The large land tracks of the wealthy were going to be divided up and handed out to campesinos who had none. If Morales and MAS had redistribution of wealth on their minds when elected, this was going to be where it really happened, which is, of course, why so many wealthy landowners in places like Santa Cruz went so utterly bananas.How does it look now? Under the compromise amendments approved in October, if you have huge tracts of land and you are using them in some form of production (which could be just chasing one small herd of cattle around to its various corners), you are in the clear. Productive land got 'grandfathered' in, meaning it is exempt from any changes. If some of that big land is just sitting around drying out, it will be in the government's sights, and the policy on compensation is as vague as Cochabamba street directions.Anybody who buys land in the future will be limited by the new constitution, if it is approved. Whether the cap is 5,000 hectares of 10,000 hectares will be decided by a parallel vote on the 25th.Gas and OilBack in the people's hands? Well, not quite. The Morales approach to gas and oil has never been confiscatory, despite silly claims otherwise. It has been 'renegotiation,' not 'nationalization' and the new constitution does little to alter that course. The pre-compromise version said that the government could contract with private oil and gas companies to perform certain services. The language won by Morales adversaries amended that to let oil firms join in 'risk sharing' arrangements with the government. That is also called co-ownership and is a far cry from, "It was your gas, now it's our gas, thanks."National Health Care ServicesCalled 'Social Security" here, this is an issue which has drawn criticism from the left (which is ample). The pre-compromise version of the new constitution declared that these services would be free to all. The new version only guarantees "access". Any good policy student worth her salt knows the difference here. Guaranteed access means you can have it if you pay, and how much is unclear.Will it Make a Difference?There are certainly, amidst 411 articles, many other issues – from education to indigenous and regional autonomy – and many points of view on them (though not from Jesus, to my knowledge). There are also other criticisms. I spoke about the new constitution recently with former President Eduardo Rodriguez, as legitimate a constitutional scholar as the nation has (he was also formerly President of the Supreme Court). He pointed out some simple problems of consistency. In one article the new draft guarantees the right to declare oneself a conscientious objector and in another declares military service to be obligatory. How conflicts like that one will get worked out is anyone's guess.Amidst all the unknowns and the vagaries of the constitution being put before the people in ten days, one thing is quite crystal clear. For the vast majority of the people the vote on January 25th will not be about the specifics contained in 411 articles but how they identify with the process of 'change' represented by Morales.It will be an emotional vote. If it passes, as expected, some opponents will weep that the end of the world is at hand. Perhaps the U.S. Embassy will see a spike in applications for visas, as it did after Morales' 2005 election. Supporters of the new constitution will similarly weep with joy, and will proclaim the vote as a clear mandate for a break with the past and a move forward to a Morales-dominated political future.But the fact is that a new constitution will likely change little here. It will not make the buses less crowded. It will not create better paying markets for the corn crops growing in my neighbors' fields. It will not improve the quality of the teaching or the learning at the public schools set to start up again next month. It will not give people yearning for opportunity much new chance of employment.These things will depend on what they have always depended. Will Bolivia's economy take a huge hit as the global economy festers? Will Bolivia have the public resources to meet the desperate needs for investment in education, health, and infrastructure? Will the government, at every level, break through the poly-partisan habits of public corruption and inefficiency that siphon off those resources before they do the people any good?Why haven't I dedicated hours developing detailed analyses of the 411 articles (other than my natural laziness and that weeklong bout with 90,000 hiccups)? Because after 11 years in Bolivia (and seven governments) I know enough to know that what counts is people's day-to-day lives and I know the difference between what effects them and what doesn't.On January 25th Bolivians will go to the polls with great hope and great emotions. But a lot of them will be a lot more concerned that the rains keep falling and that someone will buy their corn at a good price.

Will Bolivia become Cuba?

Oh man.... There is more. Speechless.

Bolivia constitution is set to pass
Taken from the LA Times. By Chris Kraul January 26, 2009

Reporting from La Paz, Bolivia -- Voters appeared to have handed Bolivian President Evo Morales a resounding victory Sunday, with exit polls showing they had approved a new constitution that will advance indigenous rights, strengthen state control over natural resources and permit him to seek another term. Morales addressed a cheering crowd in the plaza before the presidential palace here Sunday night to claim victory and declare that "Bolivia has been re-founded" and that "neoliberalism has been defeated."

Alvaro Garcia Linera and Evo Morales
New Bolivia charter
According to exit polls by two television stations and a political consulting firm, at least 56% of voters approved the 411-article constitution.The final count of votes is not expected for several days.Approval of the constitution, which caps a two-year campaign by Morales, will give expanded discretionary powers to the president, such as the ability to dissolve Congress. He will also be eligible to run for a second five-year term late next year. The earlier constitution did not allow consecutive terms.
Observers expect him to dissolve Congress and call for new elections ahead of scheduled December 2009 balloting.As expected, voters in the western highland states such as La Paz with large indigenous populations overwhelmingly approved the new charter, according to the preliminary results, while voters in the four eastern states that passed autonomy measures last year were resoundingly opposed.For many voters interviewed Sunday in the city of La Paz, the nation's capital, the most salient features of the new charter are the strengthened rights for Bolivia's three dozen ethnic groups, which make up about a third of Bolivia's 9.2 million population. The word "indigenous" appears 130 times in the new constitution.According to clauses in the new document, those groups will now be able to eschew the traditional court system and resort to their own "community justice," claim some nationalized lands as their own and receive a greater share of royalties on minerals and energy developed on or beneath those lands. Interviews with residents of El Alto, a sprawling, mostly indigenous and mixed-race suburb of the capital, reflected high hopes that native communities will now have the stake in national life that many believe has long been denied them. Preliminary counts showed 82% of residents there approved the measure. "This is a great day because we never counted before and now we will," said law student Jenny Marca as she stood in the compound of Abel Iturralde School with her mother, who was dressed in traditional derby hat, shawl and hooped skirt.Civil engineer Luciana Vargas, also of El Alto, said the previous constitution had to be changed because it favored the rich "just like all our previous presidents favored them." By checking boxes on their ballots, voters also were deciding on a cap of either 12,000 or 24,000 acres as the maximum landholdings per owner. Landowners can be stripped of property that is not "socially or economically useful." But existing landowners with more than the maximum would be grandfathered in.Clothing manufacturer Ricardo Ucharico predicted that many people would move from El Alto to occupy nationalized lands because "the population here is growing and there is no room for them." Political analyst and professor Ximena Costa said the new constitution is a step forward for Bolivia's indigenous peoples in that it gives them and their rights legal definition.But the rights, especially those regarding territory, are uncertain and contradictory and could lead to many conflicts among the communities that may try to exert control, Costa said.The divisions among voters on Morales and the constitution were apparent in central La Paz on Sunday morning. Some opposed the new charter because of the added power it conferred on the president, a socialist who is an ideological ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez."He wants to convert us into another Venezuela," dental technician Gabriel Paredes said. "Our children deserve a better future, not a socialism copied after Cuba's or authoritarianism like that of Chavez," retired railway worker Marcial Miranda said. Special correspondent Oscar Ordonez contributed to this report.

A big Bolivian UGH.

Don't get me wrong, I am all for indigenous peoples rights... but Evo Morales in office until 2014??!! I do not believe Evo always considers what is the best for Bolivia as a whole.

Does this mean that the Peace Corp will continue to be banished from this country of need until 2014? Evo may say he stands for the rights of the indigenous people, but how does banishing an organization that provides much need help/aide to the majority of Bolivians living in extreme poverty (mostly the indigenous population) support this claim?

Bolivians Vote for Constitutional Rights for Indigenous Peoples
Taken from the New York Times.

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Bolivian voters embraced a new constitution Sunday that promises more power for the long-suffering indigenous majority and grants leftist President Evo Morales a shot at remaining in office through 2014.
The charter passed easily in a country where many can still recall when Indians were forbidden to vote. But its sometimes vague wording and resistance from Bolivia’s mestizo and European-descended minority foreshadows more political turmoil in an Andean nation polarized by race and class.
Morales, Bolivia’s first Indian president, says the charter will ”decolonize” South America’s poorest country by recovering indigenous values lost under centuries of oppression dating back to the Spanish conquest.
Bolivia’s Aymara, Quechua, Guarani and dozens of other indigenous groups only won the right to vote in 1952, when a revolution broke up the large haciendas on which they had lived as peons for generations.
”The poorest people are the majority. The people with money are only a tiny few. That’s what you have to consider,” said Eloy Huanca outside a polling place in El Alto, a sprawling satellite city of La Paz. ”They ran things before, and now it’s our turn.”
But opposition leaders warn the constitution does not reflect Bolivia’s growing urban population, which mixes both Indian blood and tradition with a new Western identity, and could leave non-Indians out of the picture.
”People will go to vote for the possibility of dreaming for a better country — but a country for all of us,” said Ruben Costas, opposition governor of the eastern state of Santa Cruz. ”We should all be part of this change.”
The proposed constitution was backed by 56.8 percent of voters and opposed by 43.2 percent, with more than 90 percent of precincts reporting, according to a quick count by a private polling company. The result was similar to two exit polls by private TV stations that showed 60 percent of voters backing the charter.
Sunday’s vote went peacefully, a relief for a nation where political tensions have recently turned deadly. In 2007, three college students were killed in anti-government riots, and 13 mostly indigenous Morales supporters died in September when rioters seized government buildings to block a vote on the proposed constitution.
The proposed document would create a new Congress with seats reserved for Bolivia’s smaller indigenous groups and eliminates any mention of The Roman Catholic Church, instead recognizing and honoring the Andean earth deity Pachamama.
The charter calls for a general election in December in which Morales could run for a second, consecutive five-year term. The current constitution permits two terms, but not consecutively.
At the heart of the proposed constitution is a provision granting autonomy for 36 indigenous ”nations” and several opposition-controlled eastern states. But both are given a vaguely defined ”equal rank” that fails to resolve their rival claims over open land in Bolivia’s fertile eastern lowlands, whose large agribusiness interests and valuable gas reserves drive much of the country’s economy.
With an eye to redistributing territory in the region, the constitution also limits future land holdings to either 12,000 or 24,000 acres (5,000 or 10,000 hectares), depending which voters choose. Current landholders are exempt from the cap — a nod to the east’s powerful cattle and soy industries, which fiercely oppose the proposal.
Morales, an Aymara Indian, has allied himself closely with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in what they call ”21st century socialism.”
Elected in 2005 on a promise to nationalize Bolivia’s natural gas industry, Morales has increased the state’s presence throughout the economy and expanded benefits for the poor.
Sharing Chavez’s anti-U.S. sentiment, he has also booted Bolivia’s U.S. ambassador and Drug Enforcement Administration agents after claiming they had conspired against his government last year. Washington has denied the allegations.
Morales’ reforms remain widely popular, winning him 67 percent support in an August recall election. But his biggest project nearly failed in 2006, when an assembly convened to rewrite the constitution broke apart along largely racial lines.
In an October deal, Congress approved holding the referendum only after Morales agreed to seek one more term instead of two.

Friday, January 16, 2009


This is by far the BEST recipe in the whole world. I seriously make these cookies once a week (and consume them all).

Check it out and let me know what you think. I KNOW you will LOVE it!!


Buy Local vs. Fair Trade: An Ethical Shopper’s Dilemma

Tex Dworkin, Global Exchange Director of Marketing,

Another gift giving season is upon us and it’s time to decide on a shopping strategy. In one ear you’re encouraged to shop locally, in the other ear you hear about the benefits of choosing Fair Trade gifts. So which strategy is best, and is one better than the other? To answer a question with a question, who says you have to choose? The ‘Buy Local’ and Fair Trade movements both have their benefits.

One way to honor the bumper sticker mantra “Think Globally Act Locally” is to support your local businesses. Why buy cheese from Europe when there’s a dairy farm down the road producing double creamy Gouda that will knock your socks off? Buying local refers to choosing locally made products and soliciting locally owned businesses, which have environmental and social benefits. Products made locally have a smaller carbon footprint than products shipped from overseas, and thus are less of a strain on the environment. Shoppers who buy locally travel less distances to shop, which also reduces the carbon footprint. Local businesses produce more income and jobs for local communities than large retail chains do, and are more likely to utilize local services, such as advertising and banking. Supporting local businesses preserves the economic diversity of our communities and the unique character of our neighborhoods.

Sounds great, right? But what about choosing Fair Trade, another moral purchasing strategy?

Fair Trade is an economic model that ensures products are made by producers who receive a living wage, work in healthy, safe conditions and in many cases, employ environmentally sustainable processes. Fair Trade also tackles the issue of child slavery by guaranteeing that there is no abuse of child labor.

In a world economy where globalization is king and profits are queen, small-scale producers are left without resources or hope for their future. Children are forced to work instead of receiving an education and local environments suffer from the ‘profits now’ mentality that damage environments for future generations. Fair Trade helps exploited producers escape from this vicious cycle of poverty. The Fair Trade system benefits over 800,000 Farmers organized into cooperatives and unions in 48 countries. Revenue from Fair Trade cooperatives is used on a variety of community projects, including training of producers in organic and sustainable farming techniques, building houses, schools and clinics and guaranteeing health care for the whole community.
So now it’s time to decide…buy local or Fair Trade? It’s important to note that choosing Fair Trade products can actually help your local merchants survive in this sluggish economy. Prices for cheap imports made in sweatshop factories outside of the US are usually so low that local merchants have difficulty competing on price. So during a time when consumers are looking to cut costs wherever possible, cheap knock offs made in sweatshops often outsell locally made products, even though the quality is drastically lower.

Whichever you decide, the good news is that the ‘Buy Local’ and Fair Trade movements both have tremendous benefits. They support environmentally sustainable solutions, and layers of middlemen are left out of each economic model, helping to ensure that a fair percentage of profits actually reach the producers. Fair Trade and locally made products are often handcrafted with care, resulting in a higher quality product than the mass-produced sweatshop products available in big box stores, and in both cases, the preservation of cultural heritage is a by-product of doing business.

If you’re married to the idea of buying locally, remember that some items are not grown locally, like cocoa. Cocoa trees are only grown in tropical regions of Africa, Asia, South and Central America. So if you’re looking for socially conscious chocolate in the US, consider chocolate made locally with Fair Trade Certified cocoa. That way, you can support your local chocolate maker AND Fair Trade cocoa producers around the world.

Beyond chocolate, there are lots of other instances where products from the Fair Trade and Buy Local movements are harmoniously combined to create special products all their own. One example is from Handmade Expressions, a sourcing partner for socially and environmentally responsible products based in Austin, Texas. They sell their handmade copper alloy bells to local artists who incorporate the ethically produced crafts into their artwork that is then sold locally.
Some proponents of the buy local movement consider choosing Fair Trade products an ethical challenge because products imported to the US have a bigger carbon footprint than locally produced products. In an op-ed piece for Western M, Steve Brooks, the acting head of Oxfam Cymru points out that “if everyone in the United Kingdom switched one 100W light bulb to a low energy equivalent, CO² emissions would be reduced in one year by 4.7 times the amount saved by boycotting fresh fruit and vegetables from sub-Saharan Africa.” If this is true, then perhaps the carbon footprint issue is not such a big deal after all. If you’re not buying that, and you’re shopping for a coffee lover, consider Grounds for Change, the first coffee roaster in the nation to complete the rigorous third-party certification process necessary to obtain the CarbonFree® Certified Product label. To get a product certified CarbonFree®, a company must submit the item to a third-party process that formally scrutinizes the carbon emissions associated with every step in production from the country of origin to your cup.

Whether you choose local or Fair Trade products or a combination of the two this holiday, what’s most important is to shift your spending from mass produced products made in sweatshops to ethically produced products. According to the US Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce, US retail e-commerce sales reached $29.3 billion in the fourth quarter of 2006, and e-commerce sales accounted for just 2.8% of total retail sales, so you do the math. That’s a lot of dough! Wal-Mart alone reported $340 billion of sales revenue back in their 2006 financial report. Yet the Fair Trade Federation, the US’s network of Fair Trade businesses, reported $160+ million in total member sales in 2006, a tiny crumb compared to the overall US retail pie. If just 5% of US Wal-Mart customers shift their spending to Fair Trade products this holiday season, imagine the positive impact it could have on our environment and producers’ lives?

In November 2008 a McNeil/Lehrer report estimated US retail spending at 55 billion dollars. How much of that spending is on ethically produced products is up to you, so this holiday, remember that it’s not about buying more, but rather buying differently, and every dollar you spend is a statement about how you want this world to be.

Buy Local:

Fair Trade:

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Green, Fair Trade gifts grow more popular this holiday season

This was a joy to read :) Chicagoland is making a difference.

Green, fair trade gifts grow more popular this holiday season

December 8, 2008Chicago Tribune Ann Meyer

Forget slashing prices. What picky shoppers want this holiday season are gifts with meaning.
So merchants are scouting for items that are environmentally or socially responsible, whether that means produced locally, often with recycled material, or made in accordance with fair trade standards, which require that workers are paid a living wage in safe conditions.“We look at what the company is about. What’s their mission statement? Do they help the Earth? Do they help women?” said Jayne Ertel, co-owner of Team Blonde Jewelry in Forest Park.
At a time when many retailers are reporting sales declines, some green merchants are bucking the trend. Team Blonde projects sales of about $450,000 this year, up 8 percent from a year ago.
“I’m doubling my sales this year,” said Maureen Dunn, co-owner at Mata Traders, a Chicago-based wholesaler of fair trade goods that sells to 70 shops throughout the nation.
The hot seller this holiday season is a $12 scarf made from repurposed sari material. Dunn has added winter clothing and jewelry to her line while being careful to keep prices down.
“If something’s too expensive, I have to figure out how to change the design to make it cheaper so I can compete,” Dunn said, noting that she designs the products that are made by women’s cooperatives in India. Besides wholesale, Mata Traders has a retail booth at the Andersonville Galleria.

Sales of green products are climbing because consumers increasingly are considering where and how a product is made, said Aimee Heilbrunn, co-founder of, a Web site that reviews green products.
“People automatically think if it’s organic or green, it’s going to be more expensive, but that’s not necessarily the case. You can find some good alternatives that aren’t going to break the bank,” Heilbrunn said.
Heilbrunn conceived Ecoscene a year ago, after searching for an environmentally friendly dog bed. “I thought, if I’m a normal consumer looking for these items, there must be other consumers out there who are trying to make better choices,” she said.
Nearly one in four Americans, representing more than $200 billion in annual sales, are environmentally and socially conscious consumers, Heilbrunn said, citing figures from the Natural Marketing Institute.
“Consumers are starting to make choices that are cognizant that we are part of a global marketplace,” said Cheryl Middaugh, president of Mora & Mahogany, a company that helps clients raise money by selling fair trade products.
Mora & Mahogany plans to launch a catalog of fair trade products next year for schools and non-profit groups to use for fundraising.
It was that type of fundraiser at a Unitarian Church two years ago that inspired Cindy Pardo and two friends to launch The Fair Trader, a store in Hyde Park that opened in September 2007. “So many people in the neighborhood said, ‘Gee, I wish we could shop this way all the time,’ ” she recalled.
The store stocks only certified fair trade merchandise, including home decor, jewelry, apparel, paper and bath and body products. Most items range from $25 to $75.
Pardo is convinced the growing awareness of where products come from and how they are made is making a difference. More foreign factories are adopting fair trade principles because they know it will help them sell their products, she said.
Shoppers also feel good supporting local artisans, said Nadeen Kieren, shopkeeper at GreenSky, an Andersonville boutique offering green and one-of-a-kind gifts and home decor. “If people can find something functional or decorative that has a story behind it, they enjoy spending their money.”
About three-quarters of the merchandise Kieren stocks is from the Midwest, she said, though she also carries some international fair trade products. Products range from frames created from pencils, birdhouses made from reclaimed barn wood, repurposed woolens made into hats and scarves and jewelry from Michigan stones, she said. Prices range from $2 for a fair trade chocolate bar from Divine Chocolate to $70 for a sea grass handbag.
To keep up with demand at Team Blonde Jewelry, the business recently expanded to a 3,200-square-foot location, where the owners took care to reuse two-by-fours, wood moldings and drywall screws, said co-owner Heidi Vance, who drives a car that runs on biofuel. The new space includes a jewelry-making studio, where Vance and Ertel make items from recycled material, leaded glass from vintage chandeliers, typewriter keys and Scrabble tiles. Customers also can use the studio to make jewelry.
Vance and Ertel, trained in law and accounting, respectively, gave up professional careers to grow Team Blonde. Initially, they made most of the jewelry the store carried. As they found distinct items at gift shows that appealed to their environmental consciousness, they broadened their merchandise mix.
Products range from Vy & Elle handbags made from recycled vinyl billboards to Zulu grass necklaces from the Kenya-based Leakey Collection, which creates employment opportunities for women. Perennial favorites also are soap and bath salts from the Enterprising Kitchen, a Chicago non-profit that employs disadvantaged women.
“We like things that are unpredictable,” Vance said. “There’s always something new to look at. It gives people a reason to come back.”

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Is Fair Trade Green?

In this article Jacob Leibenluft for the Washington Post talks about the differences and similarities of Green vs Fair Trade. At first the article scared me a little...but then it came around and Leinbenluft does a good job of educating the enviromentally friendly practices that come with Fair Trade Certification. Enjoy :) and let me know what you think.

Making sense of sanctimonious product labels.
By Jacob Leibenluft Posted Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2008, at 7:04 AM ET

Here's one that's been bothering me for a while: Are fair-trade products really more environmentally friendly? People are always equating the two concepts, but they don't seem related to me. How can I be confident that a fair-trade item is also green?

The rise of the "ethical" consumer hasn't just created a market for greener products—it's also created a market for new labels meant to show that those products have been vetted on your behalf. But for the average shopper, the labels can get confusing pretty fast. It's tempting to assume that any chocolate bar with a sticker including words like earth or fair must be good for the environment and good for workers and probably helps grandmothers cross the street, too.
That's just not the case. But to answer your question, let's focus on items that are officially "fair-trade certified." (That means we're ignoring labels like bird-friendly, Rainforest Alliance-approved, UTZ certified, or Direct Trade—alas.) Traditionally, the fair-trade designation has been associated more closely with labor standards than the environment, suggesting that workers in far-off places are enjoying better wages and conditions than they would for producing products under conventional labels. But any product that's certified as fair trade must also meet a set of environmental standards determined by a group called Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International.

In some respects, these restrictions are very straightforward—for example, the certification process specifically bans this list of pesticides (PDF). The standards are more general in other respects, telling producers to leave buffer zones around conservation areas, minimize water use for irrigation, and ensure that organic waste is "disposed of in a sustainable manner." Fair-trade advocates argue that the eco-benefits extend beyond these simple rules: By helping to promote smaller producers, the label helps those who are most likely to use sustainable, traditional growing methods that are better for the environment.

Keep in mind that fair trade does not equal organic: The international labeling group encourages, but does not require, producers to "work towards organic practices where socially and economically practical." According to Transfair USA—the group that implements these standards in the United States—more than 60 percent of fair-trade coffee is also organic. There is also substantial overlap between fair-trade coffee and "bird friendly," shade-grown varieties—but one doesn't imply the other. Still, if you assume the certifiers are doing their job, fair trade appears likely to be greener than the conventional stuff you'd find in a supermarket.

Still, critics have raised some big concerns. The first, pointed out by regular Slate contributor Tim Harford, is that the promise of higher wages through fair-trade arrangements may provide farmers with an incentive to overproduce (subscription required). (More broadly, Harford has argued that fair-trade farmers may not receive much benefit from that higher price you pay—a claim you can read more about here and here.) Not only would overproduction keep the rest of the world's farmers poor, but it would result in more and more of the world's land being cleared for farming. But these concerns may be overstated: Fair-trade certification generally bans the use of virgin forest land, and there is little evidence that its small-scale adoption has caused any overproduction. Washington State University professor Daniel Jaffee actually found that the certification had a positive impact on land use among one group of Mexican coffee growers—while also encouraging better practices surrounding water protection and soil erosion.

A second worry is that fair-trade products, by definition, are produced outside the country, so they need to travel a fair distance to get to your home. If the items are shipped by sea, the impact may not be so bad—as the Lantern has pointed out before, the emissions impact of long ocean hauls may be less than trucking a product within the United States. (Besides, if you crave a product like chocolate or coffee, domestic farms aren't going to do you much good, anyway.) A few types of perishable fruits and vegetables are more likely to be shipped by air, which raises more serious concerns. In Britain, the result has been a touchy debate over whether it's better to increase trade with Africa or to reduce emissions from the air freighting of otherwise environmentally sound produce.

Here's the bottom line: If you care about both global poverty and climate change, you can't always have it both ways. The Lantern suggests you keep things in perspective: Boycotting bananas from the Dominican Republic may reduce your carbon footprint a tad, but you'll make a bigger dent by putting that hamburger meat back on the shelf once in a while—and you won't be cutting a poor grower out of the global economy.

Jacob Leibenluft is a writer from Washington, D.C.
Photograph of coffee on Slate's home page by Alessandro Abbonizio/AFP/Getty Images

What Exactly does "Fair Trade" mean?

It's easy for me to get caught up in my passions and fail to realize that I am not educating, sharing the meanings, or forces behind my passions. A big passion of mine is Fair Trade.

Often when talking with my peers, the concept of Fair Trade isn't fully understood (especially when applied to clothing). The label Fair Trade is and isn't mainstream. We have seen it appear in the news with the conflict between Starbucks Coffee and OxFam, but never really up in our face. So, let's start slowly....


Do you ever wonder who made who made the shirt your wearing? I look at clothing tags all the time....Made in China, Made in Indonesia, Made in Mexico, etc., etc. Are you aware of the external damages (hardship, exploitation, and environmental damage) that may be attached to your purchase?

Poor working conditions in the garment industry have been extensively documented for decades. While pressure from labor rights groups has contributed to the adoption of improved labor standards in some cases, dire conditions and sweatshops still exist on a large scale in low-income countries. Complexities of the garment industry make it hard to tell where clothing comes from and under what conditions it was made.

Fair Trade Certification gives consumers trust in their purchase. A product that is certified Fair Trade by The Fair Trade Federation ( or Transfair USA ( has committed to the following principles:

Create Opportunities for Economically and Socially Marginalized Producers: Fair Trade is a strategy for poverty alleviation and sustainable development. Members create social and economic opportunities through trading partnerships with marginalized producers. Members place the interests of producers and their communities as the primary concern of their enterprise.

Develop Transparent and Accountable Relationships: Fair Trade involves relationships that are open, fair, consistent, and respectful. Members show consideration for both customers and producers by sharing information about the entire trading chain through honest and proactive communication. They create mechanisms to help customers and producers feel actively involved in the trading chain. If problems arise, members work cooperatively with fair trade partners and other organizations to implement solutions.

Build Capacity: Fair Trade is a means to develop producers' independence. Members maintain long-term relationships based on solidarity, trust, and mutual respect, so that producers can improve their skills and their access to markets. Members help producers to build capacity through proactive communication, financial and technical assistance, market information, and dialogue. They seek to share lessons learned, to spread best practices, and to strengthen the connections between communities, including among producer groups.

Promote Fair Trade: Fair Trade encourages an understanding by all participants of their role in world trade. Members actively raise awareness about Fair Trade and the possibility of greater justice in the global economic system. They encourage customers and producers to ask questions about conventional and alternative supply chains and to make informed choices. Members demonstrate that trade can be a positive force for improving living standards, health, education, the distribution of power, and the environment in the communities with which they work.

Pay Promptly and Fairly: Fair Trade empowers producers to set prices within the framework of the true costs of labor time, materials, sustainable growth, and related factors. Members take steps to ensure that producers have the capacity to manage this process. Members comply with or exceed international, national, local, and, where applicable, Fair Trade Minimum standards for their employees and producers. Members seek to ensure that income is distributed equitably at all times, particularly equal pay for equal work by women and men. Members ensure prompt payment to all of their partners. Producers are offered access to interest-free pre-harvest or pre-production advance payment.

Support Safe and Empowering Working Conditions: Fair Trade means a safe and healthy working environment free of forced labor. Throughout the trading chain, Members cultivate workplaces that empower people to participate in the decisions that affect them. Members seek to eliminate discrimination based on race, caste, national origin, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, union membership, political affiliation, age, marital, or health status. Members support workplaces free from physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal harassment or abuse.

Ensure the Rights of Children: Fair Trade means that all children have the right to security, education, and play. Throughout the trading chain, Members respect and support the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as local laws and social norms. Members disclose the involvement of children in production. Members do not support child trafficking and exploitative child labor.

Cultivate Environmental Stewardship: Fair Trade seeks to offer current generations the ability to meet their needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Members actively consider the implications of their decisions on the environment and promote the responsible stewardship of resources. Members reduce, reuse, reclaim, and recycle materials wherever possible. They encourage environmentally sustainable practices throughout the entire trading chain.

Respect Cultural Identity: Fair Trade celebrates the cultural diversity of communities, while seeking to create positive and equitable change. Members respect the development of products, practices, and organizational models based on indigenous traditions and techniques to sustain cultures and revitalize traditions. Members balance market needs with producers' cultural heritage.