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Fair Trade and Free Trade

One of the issues that Faceless International supports is the idea of fair trade - i.e., paying workers a fair living wage for their area, for the work they produce. Faceless does this through partnerships with organizations like the Emancipation Network (link in the sidebar), which sells fairly produced products and coffee.

Since I am no economist, I thought I would let this article I found from the General United Methodist Church explain for me:

"Free trade aims to allow the world market to operate without any constraints by eliminating such things as tarriffs, quotas and investment barriers (restrictions or limitations on companies investing in foreign countries). Today's trade agreements take various forms. These include bilateral free trade agreements (FTA) between two countries and larger multilateral agreements such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), which is an agreement among 135 nations. [...] Free trade agreements can be beneficial. They provide access to one another's markets and allow countries to concentrate on the production of goods they are best capable of producing. [...] world trade has the potential to provide growth for the world's poorest countries, but that potential is not being realized. There are many reasons for this. Some include the lack of economic power of the poor countries, which results in a lack of bargaining power when the trade negotiations are being conducted."
The article goes on to say that "Despite the growth in free trade agreements, 'low income countries account for more than 40% of the [world] population, but less than 3% of the world trade .'"

What essentially happens in "free" trade is that the agreements end up being unfair toward the developing country that has little power in negotiating trade agreements with the hegemonic superpowers of the world - i.e., the USA, Great Britain, China, etc. As a result, the richer countries get richer while the poorer countries get poorer. Because the trade is without restrictoin, companies that are using workers in foreign countries (e.g., US tech support call centers in India), don't have to pay the workers necessarily a living wage for their services - those are not controlled within the trade agreements, and it's much cheaper for the country to outsource, and use workers in developing countries, because, like I said, they have no negotiating power.

However, there is something that can be done.

The fair trade movement proposes that trade be not only free, but that trade agreements between companies in first and third world countries be also far - creating not only economic growth, but helping to alleviate poverty in the developing world by ensuring safe working conditions, a fair living wage for the workers, and fair compensation for their work. In other words, while free trade takes a step toward making it easier for third world countries to produce products for the developed nations, it has been used to prop up the developed countries even more over the heads of the developing nations. In other words, free trade simply emphasizes the rich-poor gap between countries, while fair trade attempts to close it.

So what can we, the few little Americans that we are, do?

For one, we can support the fair trade movement by buying fairly traded products such as coffee, tea, and sugar. These are staples in the diet of the average American/English-person, and would therefore increase the power of fair trade if more people started buying. Some good places to buy these products include OxFam, The Emancipation Network, Equal Exchange, and Ten Thousand Villages. If you are buying in store, looking for products with a "fair trade certified" seal on them (pictured above).

Further steps include lobbying Congress (the Invisible Children campaign shows that this actually does make a difference) and writing letters to US Trade Ambassadors.

Join me on the fight to make trade fair and to help pull our brothers and sisters out of the pit we have dug for them.

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