Fair Trade: Movement Towards Balance in our Global Economy
As an owner and operator of a small business dependent on agricultural goods sourced worldwide, I often wonder about our sustainability as an organization. Internally, we can make all of the right choices – from creating a healthy working environment for our employees, to regenerating the ecosystem surrounding our manufacturing facility. We can run an amazing company here in Gilsum, NH… but are we really sustainable? Whether or not we choose to acknowledge it, we operate in a globalized society and our business cannot be disconnected from our larger international community. To be truly sustainable as a business, we need to look beyond our local community to each and every partner that we touch. We need to ask ourselves the question: Is our connection to this partner contributing positively or negatively to their lives? Our vision is that someday we will be able to follow every single one of our supply chains back to their original source, and that we will be able to ensure that we are having a net positive impact with every partner we touch. If every business on earth took this approach, we would begin to see the formation of a very different global economy.
The entire living population of the earth is no more than a century old, thus our current global economic system is all we have ever known. This economic system has only been around for a split second in human history, but in that time it has dramatically changed our entire way of life and impacted billions of people. We have no recollection of trade before Adam Smith’s invisible hand of the market or Milton Freedman’s free market economy. These grand sweeping macro-economic models are perfect in theory – however, in practice, the transitions required in order to bring balance to the market sacrifices people as inanimate parts of a larger system. Fair trade was a concept born out of the inequality that is the byproduct of the modern free market. Poor farmers, at the base of the supply chain, feel the greatest impact as market supply and demand ebbs and flows. Fair trade was designed to work within the current market and to fill in the gaps where our economic system failed.
Over the past several years, fair trade organizations have been criticized from a range of different angles. I have read through each of the critiques and I can see that many have merit. Most notable have been the questions surrounding whether or not the fair trade model, in its current form, is actually impact based, and whether fair trade for some creates greater inequality for others. I believe that these questions are valid and significant. However, what I see lacking from these critiques is a constructive vision for how we can address the global inequality that led to fair trade in the first place. Fair trade is much larger than any one single organization – fair trade is a movement towards fairness and balance in our global economy. The leaders of the fair trade movement have come to a crossroads. Some believe that fair trade should continue to build off of the original basis on which it was formed. Some believe that we now have an opportunity to re-envision “fair” and to create a new system that is both impact-based and scalable. As I search for ways in which Badger can become truly sustainable, I find myself drawn to the larger vision of fair trade. Badger is committed to an impact-based approach to our suppliers. We are on a journey towards something better and we can see that the fair trade movement of the future is our guide in ensuring the right livelihood throughout our supply chains.