Category: the concept

the girl effect

Last night, I went to a benefit dinner for a campus organization that my friends in Caldwell Fellows founded called Bricks Breaking Boundaries.  It is a response to the call for action in this year’s common reading initiative, “Half the Sky.”  In the book, the authors reveal that human sex trafficking is one of the major issues affecting women worldwide.

We heard a speaker from NC Stop Human Trafficking who discussed trafficking issues in our own back yard.  She proposed that to end trafficking worldwide there are many actions Americans can take in the form of activism.  She also told the audience the importance of how we spend our dollar, and devoted a good five minutes to the topic of fair trade.

After she presented, we had the chance to discuss with our tables and pose questions.  I was amazed that the entire conversation turned to fair trade.  Everyone wanted to know more about it and how it made a difference!  I am so glad that the word is getting out.  After the session, a student in nuclear engineering came up to me to ask me more information and we had a great discussion while on the bus.

We also watched this video, which will give an overview of the horrors facing impoverished girls around the world.

So…how does fair trade make a difference?  When a mother is able to make a higher income through fair trade, she can have savings.  These savings can pay for her daughter’s education, just like you saw in the movie.


an update on my research

This posting is about fair trade and doesn’t discuss the internship.

If you’ve been following all year, you are aware that I am writing a senior thesis on the combined power of fair trade and microcredit loans.  I submitted a draft a few weeks ago, got some feedback, and handed in a second draft.  My professor had a fantastic idea for my paper…instead of just telling the reader what I believe through the research, I’m going to show them.  And now, I will show you…

Uru woman

The Uru women make much of the food they eat out of the same reed used for building their islands, houses and boats.


The Uru People (Los Uros in Spanish) live in Lake Titicaca, which is bordered by Peru and Bolivia.  They are a pre-Incan people who speak three languages, including Spanish.  I was reading the life history of Cristina, an Uru woman who does fair trade.  It was all in Spanish.  Understanding nearly all of what I was reading, I became confused when Cristina narrated how she would go to school as a child.  I thought it said that she would float on a plant from her island to the school every day.  Confused but intrigued, I asked my Chilean roommate to translate.  Turns out the Uru make their own boats out of reeds…but it gets better.  They also make their own islands out of the same reeds.  They make the islands they live on!!!  It’s fascinating, and I suggest you skim the wikipedia article for a basic introduction:  Uru people

Uru Island

In all, there are 40 islands like this. There are about 1200 Uru left.

Cristina tells us how she got started in producing handicrafts as a child.  At 15, she encouraged the other Uru women to make their own group to help sell the products.  Eventually, it evolved into CIAP: The Inter-regional Center for Peruvian Artisans which is a fair trade organization.  Cristina’s story should help the readers of my paper understand why fair trade is so important.  In fact, her story will count as ethnographic data, which is just as important as the inclusion of numerical data in a paper like this.

If you speak Spanish, read Cristina’s narrative here:  it is fascinating. Autobiografía de Cristina Suaña.

under the fair trade label: cryptic coffee

lesson of the day:  fair trade impacts the coffee industry differently from other industries: in order for a farmer to get the fair trade label, she must sell her beans to a local distributor.  this distributor will combine her beans with other farmers’ beans to create a mixed product.  as a result, the farmer gets a lower price than they would selling directly to a buyer in the US.  therefore… the coffee growers with the best quality coffee don’t need fair trade.  instead, institutional conflict behind the fair trade distributors acts as a crutch to producers who make bad products – fair trade can sustain bad quality coffee.

I learned all of this by calling Global Village, our local organic café on Hillsborough.  Take note that fair trade itself is not the reason that the coffee producers earn less – the distributors who are fair-trade certified cause the price to go down.  But, the distributors are the ones who are “fair trade certified.”  What we need to do to fix this is to encourage NGOs like the Fair Trade Federation (FTF) to certify individual farmers instead of distributors.

In an example, the owner of Global Village has chosen to pay a small farmer in Nicaragua directly for his coffee because the quality is unbeatable.  If he bought it from the distributor, it would be mixed with everyone else’s lower-quality coffee.  But now he can’t call it fair trade, even though he has paid the farmer more.

The fair trade practices at Beleza are such that the owner either pays the artisans directly or through a co-op.  Again, because we are not working with a fair-trade certified distributor, the products aren’t necessarily “fair trade certified.”  But what’s the ultimate goal?  Having a stamp of approval or directly improving the lives of the producers?

microcredit micromanaged

Fair trade is an integral part of sustainable human development.  So, too, is microfinance.  People in developing countries need access to credit so they can have the capital to start a business or make their crafts.  Many of the artisans at Beleza got started with a microcredit loan.  Unfortunately, last week’s Economist featured an article stating, among other things, that Bangladesh would be capping the interest rate on microcredit loans at 27%.

Why is this bad?  The interest charged on the loans helps pay for training programs and the administration costs it takes for locally-employed loan officers to bike from door to door establishing new loans and checking on the lending groups.  By capping the interest, Bangladesh is effectively limiting the amount of loans available.  It’s a shame this is happening here, where it all started by the work of Dr. Mohammed Yunus.  I just finished his book, “Banker to the Poor.”

Link to the article:


New interest cap will reduce amount of loans available

access to credit

For many artisans participating in fair trade, access to credit is unthinkable.  Or it was.  Dr. Mohammed Yunus, an economics professor in Bangladesh, started the first microcredit program.  He and his institution, the Grammen Bank, both won the Nobel Peace Prize.  Microcredit is a big step towards eradicating poverty and is an integral piece of sustainable human development.  Loans are very small; the average loans are worth $25-$250 for first time lenders.  This money helps people in developing countries buy supplies to make their crafts or materials for farming.

I just did a marketing project on Opportunity International, a large microcredit organization that is active in 15 countries.  They have a 98% repayment rate on their loans – higher than commercial loans.  How is this possible?  Lenders form trust groups of about 30 people.  They meet each week to make a payment on their loan.  If they don’t make a payment, the other members hold them accountable.  Imagine a woman has a sick child so she is unable to go to the market to sell her crafts.  She cannot make her weekly payment.  Someone in the trust group offers to look after her child so that she can sell her goods and then make her payment.  In effect, these loans help build community.  I’m reading Dr. Yunus’s book, “Banker to the Poor” to learn about how it all started.

Many of the products that are sold at Beleza start with a microloan.

a fast response to disaster

Flooding in Pakistan has displaced thousands of families and ruined entire villages.  I stumbled across this article today.  In Asheville, another fair-trade store has been able to sell rugs to help the villagers.

Here’s an example of how fair-trade practices promote sustainable community development.  It’s not aid, it’s development.

“The thing about fair trade is that it’s a long-term relationship,” said Yousaf Chaman, director of Bunyaad since 1994 and son of the organization’s founder.

The program has enabled Khalida to have a loom inside her home where she can work year round, unlike farming.

In an aid situation, Khalida would merely receive aid money to temporarily alleviate her poverty.  This is appropriate during disasters, such as the flood.  Note, however, that she has had a relationship with the organization since 1994.  Ever hear the old adage “give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime?”  That’s the difference between aid and development.

See the whole article here:  Fair trade rug event in Asheville helps Pakistani villagers

what is fair trade?

from the Beleza website:

Fair trade is just what the term implies. This is how you treat people fairly for their hard work and respect them for their lives. Some of the basic principles of fair trade include the following.

  • Providing fair wages in the local context,
  • Supporting safe, healthy, and participatory workplaces,
  • Supplying financial and technical support to build capacity,
  • Ensuring environmental sustainability,
  • Respecting cultural identity,
  • Building direct and long-term relationships, and
  • Sharing the lives of our producers with our customers to help them understand more about the need for fair trade..

Fair trade is not about charity. It is a holistic approach to trade and development that aims to alter the ways in which commerce is conducted, so that trade can empower the poorest of the poor. Fair trade organizations seek to create sustainable and positive change in developing and developed countries.

Fair trade fosters an equitable and fair partnership between businesses and organizations in the developed world and producers in the developing world. Moreover, Fair Trade businesses cultivate long-term and direct relationships with producers, because they know these connections are a highly effective way to help producers help themselves. While Beleza is not an official member of any fair trade organization, we are totally committed to displaying more than the minimum requirements of such organizations.