Defining Terms For Making a Positive Contribution

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One week it’s social work and the next it’s graphic design – I go back and forth about my career goals, struggling to identify my skills, strengths and passions so that I can choose a life path in which I can make the world a better place. I’m busy, young  and overwhelmed.

I want to introduce craft as an avenue for peace between Palestinian and Israeli women; I want to live with Indian organic cotton farmers and promote their crop to the textile industry; I want to help develop clean water systems for children in slums of Kenya. And I don’t know where to start. The questions that I ask about the world are too big to answer and my skill-set is too small to move forward. It’s easy to get bogged-down by uncertainties.

But, I often forget about the power that I have as a consumer. I forget that the small choices I make here in Washington, DC – the ones that I make several times each day – can have a profound impact on the lives of the world’s most marginal communities. And that I don’t need to wait for four more degrees and a life thousands of miles away to make the world a better place.

I know that I shouldn’t buy socks from Target, which may have been stitched by the hands of children in a crowded sweatshop…  And that organic shea butter is harvested less harmfully than conventional shea butter. I  know that when I enjoy Hershey chocolate (whose cocoa supply chain is tainted with child labor), I join hands with exploitative slave-drivers.

I also know that I can contribute to positive community development and women’s empowerment by purchasing products that are ethically certified.

But I forget too easily.

I admit that I’m disconnected from the products that I buy. I choose blouses that flatter my body, and I throw them away when they wear out. I eat food that is convenient. I forget to consider whether the production of my purchases empowers or degrades, enslaves or frees.

When I’m in a rush, juggling 25 priorities and grappling with questions that seem too big to handle, it’s easy to ignore the deep impact that I can make on the world as a consumer. The contributions represented by the multitude of different shiny stickers certifying a positive contribution to the world feel so far away, their reach distant.

Fair Trade Certified, FLO, Rainforest Alliance, 1% for the planet, Fair for Life

What does it all mean?

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When I think about the collectives of craftswomen who are lifting themselves from poverty by rolling recycled paper into beautiful jewelery, I remember that I am part of a global exchange that connects economies, culture and livelihoods. These labels and certfications are a reminder that I can make the world a better place step-by-step and choice-by-choice.

To make it less overwhelming, below are descriptions of 8 prominent labels that guide us to purchase products that benefit the planet and its people.

  1. onepercent_logo1% for The Planet: This label tells us that the product’s business donates 1% of its profits to an environmental organization of its choice. The businesses donate directly to the nonprofits in order to establish independent relationships with the non-profits they support. These relationships push the businesses to get involved with the organizations firsthand. While this label is not associated with the Fair Trade movement, it represents businesses who are contributing positively to the world.
  2. FFLLogo4cFair for Life: The Fair For Life label is administered by the Institute for Marketecology (IMO) for products that adhere to Fair Trade* standards. The label stands for the protection of human rights at all stages of production – ensuring that workers are treated fairly and that smallholder farmers receive fair compensation.  The Fair For Life label applies to many products including fruit, coffee, tea, and essential oils.
  3. ftlogoThe Fair Trade Federation is a non-profit organization of made up of members who are fully-committed Fair Trade businesses. These members include retailers, wholesalers and suppliers that have been screened to ensure that they uphold principles of Fair Trade throughout their supply chain. Fair Trade Federation members sell a variety of products, from handmade and artisan gifts to food and personal care products. For a comprehensive list of Fair Trade business members, visit their member directory .
  4. fairTradeLogoFair Trade Labeling Organizations International (FLO) is based in Bonn, Germany and represents a network of 25 organizations who work together to develop, review, and set international Fair Trade standards and to support Fair Trade producers. The standards that FLO sets are meant for all producers and businesses that market Fair Trade products – this includes importers, exporters and licensees of Fair Trade businesses. The US-based member of FLO is Fair Trade USA (formerly TransFair USA).
  5. logoFair Trade USA (formerly Transfair USA) is a third-party certifier that audits and certifies transactions between Fair Trade businesses in the US and their international suppliers – The Fair Trade USA label ensures that producers received a fair price for the product. Fair Trade USA also educates US consumers about the benefits of Fair Trade for producers around the world.
  6. Green America_gold_web_smallGreen America’s Certification for Green Businesses is a label distributed by Green America, a national non-profit that advocates for the engagement of economic power to create an environmentally sustainable and socially just world.  Green America certifies businesses on a tiered scale with a Bronze, Silver or Gold Seal. The “Green Seal”  honors businesses that are committed to leveraging their entrepreneurship as a platform for social change. You can be sure that businesses with a Green America Seal operate in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible regarding the ways they source, manufacture, and market their products, and the way that they value their workers, customers and communities. And when you click on the seal, you will be directed to the business’s sustainability initiatives… how cool! The Standards Committee at Green America thoroughly evaluates all businesses that apply for a certification.
  7. cvvs-sealsRainforest Alliance is not a Fair Trade certification, but exists to promote environmental health and biodiversity. Farms and forestlands that meet the third-party standards of the Sustainable Agriculture Network or the Forest Stewardship Council may be awarded the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal. This label validates that general industry best-practices are upheld in forestry and agriculture practices, but does not ensure fair labor compensation.
  8. WorldFairTradeThe World Fair Trade Organization is a global network of businesses and organizations that demonstrate 100% Fair Trade commitment and apply the WFTO’s 10 Principles of Fair Trade. The WFTO claims to be a global authority on Fair Trade and operates in 75 countries across 5 regions. WFTO expands Fair Trade through policy, advocacy, campaigning, marketing and monitoring. It’s members represents grassroots organizations as well as large businesses.

… I know it’s confusing – there are so many labels that verify the same practices and represent the same values. Are these labels/organizations competing with one another? Are some better than others? There’s no way to be sure. But I am certain that the principles the certifications represent are integral towards building a sustainable and just world, and that the labels are an important reminder of our global responsibility as consumers. When we buy things, we can contribute positively to the world!

IMG_5100There is still so much to learn and so many more labels to define! Have you seen other labels you wish to learn about? Or have updates on the labels you’ve read about on this page? Please submit your comments below. For more information about the Fair Trade movement, click here or see the note below.

*Fair Trade is one of the first themes that I think of when I consider my consumer power. Basically, Fair Trade is an assurance of dignified exchange between producers, communities, consumers, and the environment. Within the Fair Trade system, producers receive fair compensation for their work and that their labor rights are upheld. In the US, it’s easy to find Fair Trade coffee, chocolate, apparel, jewelery, linens, tea, fruit, sugar, honey, grains, vanilla, olive oil, flowers, spices, wine and gifts.

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2 responses to “Defining Terms For Making a Positive Contribution

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