Response to The Economist

Below is Doug Dirks’, Public Relations Specialist, Ten Thousand Villages USA, response to The Economist’s report on fair trade. Doug used to work at Ten Thousand Villages Canada and, until October 2005, served as Marketing Director in the Akron HQ. He reports to the CEO and is focused on increasing Ten Thousand Villages’ presence in the domestic and international fair trade movement. Bottom line: Doug lives and breaths fair trade more than most of us.

Quoted from Doug’s e-mail:

“I agree that our fair trade shopping dollars will not solve all the world’s problems related to poverty, safe food supply and sustainable agriculture. However, I do believe that each one of us has a responsibility to be concerned about the welfare of the people who make or grow the products that we buy. At Ten Thousand Villages, we take the time and make the effort to get to know the artisans we buy from well enough so that we can be assured that artisans are paid fairly according to standards that they set. If this means that we need to pay more than the current ‘market’ rate we pay more so that people can live more comfortably. We have been doing this for 60 years, our business is growing, we are making a small surplus and artisans are making progress in their home communities as well.

Just last week, I was in Colombia visiting small-scale coffee farmers who supply fair trade coffee to Level Ground Trading, one of our fair trade coffee suppliers. It’s obvious that fair trade prices over the past five or more years have made tremendous differences for these farmers. They have been able to maintain and improve their coffee farms (usually farms that have been owned by one family for several generations) even when world prices were ridiculously low and fair trade premiums have provided higher education opportunities for their children so they can move on to other careers. A number of these farmers are in the process of converting to organic practices and several farmers pointed out that, on their small farms of two hectares or less (five acres or less), organic coffee farming (integrated with fruit trees, bananas, corn, yuca (manioc/cassava) and sugar cane) can actually be just as productive as ‘chemical’ farming and less costly to the farmer at the same time.

In the end, we prefer to develop close relationships with the people we buy from so that we can be assured that they feel like they are getting a fair deal when they sell to us. We believe this is better than allowing the so-called free market to decide on prices that may end up making it difficult for artisans and producers to feed and clothe their families.”