That’s why Jane Dow, a member of the Mankato Area Fair Trade Towns Initiative, traveled to Mexico in July to visit with farmers and artisans who are producing fair trade products, such as coffee and artisan crafts.
Fair trade is a system of goods production where the actual farmers or artisans get a larger percentage of the profits of their work. This helps these producers — who often exist in countries with substantial poverty — earn a wage that supports them and their families.
They toured coffee co-ops and other fair trade organizations in the cities of Oaxaco and Chiapas, Mexico. Dow said their travels exposed them to extreme poverty, low literacy and poor infrastructure and education systems.
One of the more unique things about a fair trade co-op is the concept of social premium. A little bit is added on to the price of fair trade goods in Mexico and set aside to do things for the community. For example, they might build a school for their children, hire doctors for the community or install systems for safe drinking water.
Dow met artisans who grind up insects to make dyes they use for the vibrantly colored rugs. She said that one group she met was on the verge of quitting until a businesswoman arrived to teach them how to better price their goods. The woman also helped them find microfinancing.
Caring for the environment is also a key concern for fair trade producers.
When wood carvers cut a tree down for materials, they plant three more to take its place, many of which are shade trees, important for the sequestration of carbon dioxide. They also engage in composting.
“We’ll have a fundraiser in October,” Dow said. “I’ll have my slides, explain to people the benefits of fair trade. And anyone who wants me to come and talk to their group, I’m more than happy to do it.”
“Nobody was carrying fair trade bananas until (MAFTTI’s efforts),” she said.