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From water bottles to chocolate, athletic equipment to office supplies, over the past decade many companies have developed fair trade and ethically sourced products. Companies that did not originally incorporate these practices into their business models are increasingly changing their operating principles. A large part of this trend is due to the purchasing power of consumers, who are concerned with the environmental, social, and legal impact of their spending.
Fair trade (as defined by the Fair Trade Foundation) is about providing reasonable prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and equitable terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. It is about improving the position of producers within the poorest countries so that they are able to sell their goods on a global market and build a stronger, more vital economy.
Fair trade is overseen globally by the Fair Trade Labelling Organization (FLO) with sub-groups for countries and regions. However, in September 2011, Fair Trade USA (FTUSA) announced that it unilaterally decided to resign from its membership in the FLO. They also intend to make changes to some of the criteria for determining which products are certified as fair trade.
The main point of contention that caused the split was a difference of opinion regarding the definition of hired labor, particularly within the coffee industry. Traditionally, fair trade coffee certification only included products from smallholder farms, usually from families who own a plot of land within a cooperative and farm it themselves. FTUSA is currently looking to extend fair trade certification to estate and plantation coffee farmers and has a pilot project in Brazil. Various American organizations, including United Students for Fair Trade, have strongly opposed these changes.
FTUSA has also announced a new ‘Multiple Ingredients Product Policy’ whereby products that are at least 20% fair trade will carry a new type of fair tradelogo (right). This change is contentious, as many view this measure as one that “waters down” international fair tradestandards.
Regardless of the controversy, fair trade certification is still a useful way for consumers to guarantee that companies are meeting fair trade guidelines. Currently, there are three fair trade logos, including the “multiple ingredients” logo. When shopping in the United States, look for the logo on the left, which is located on the label or packaging of the product. If outside the United States, look for the logo on the right.
To find a listing of fair trade products, check out Fair trade USA. They have products sorted by type, from apparel and sports equipment to honey, coffee, and spirits. Fair Trade USA also has an interactive map which includes the countries that are helped by fair trade practices and a section with detailed impact reports on various industries.
The Fair trade Resourcing Network (FTRN) recently launched an interactive map of the United States called I Spot Fair Trade. This map allows users to zoom into the location of the stores, making it easy to find fair trade dealers in your community. FTRN also has many resources on their main website, including event listing, reading and film recommendations, and how to become further involved in the movement.
Additionally, there are several products and stores that retail across the country. Ten Thousand Villages is a national chain where fair trade home goods, soaps, and artwork is sold. Divine Chocolate and Honest Tea are both fair trade brands that widely sell in grocery and convenience stores. You can order fair trade coffee at groundsforchange.com.
Other resources that are not fair trade specific, but useful for determining corporate responsibility are Free2Work, a free Android or iPhone application, and B Corporation, a non-profit that certifies businesses as socially and environmentally responsible. Free2Work allows users to scan product barcodes and provides ratings of brands and their trafficking and labour policies. B Corporation has a listing of certified companies here, which are required to meet rigorous standards and many of which are fair trade.
To some extent, what you buy is a reflection of who you are; your preferences and tastes. Use these fair trade and ethical consumerism resources to reflect your beliefs.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the troubling signs of bipartisan support in favor of U.S. foreign aid cuts – cuts that threaten to undermine the remarkable impact that less than 1% of the U.S. budget has on improving the lives of the world’s poorest. Today brings mixed news, and it leaves me both hopeful and frustrated.
First, the good news: last week, the House introduced H.R. 3159, also known as the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2012. Introduced by Reps. Howard Berman, (D – CA-28) and Ted Poe (R – TX-2), the Bill has strong bipartisan support, with thirty co-sponsors spanning the widest reaches of the ideological spectrum. The Bill seeks to enhance the accountability and transparency of U.S. foreign aid programs through two major reforms. First is a uniform set of metrics for monitoring and evaluation: it guides the President, Department of State, USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation and the Department of Defense to
“…evaluate the performance of United States foreign assistance programs and their contribution to policy, strategies, projects, program goals, and priorities undertaken by the Federal Government, to foster and promote innovative programs to improve the effectiveness of such programs, and to coordinate the monitoring and evaluation processes of Federal departments and agencies that administer such programs.”
Second is the establishment of a website “to make publicly available comprehensive, timely, comparable, and accessible information on United States foreign assistance programs.” The website enhances the existing Foreign Assistance Dashboard to include information on a program-by-program and country-by-country basis, as well as “country assistance strategies, annual budget documents, congressional budget justifications, actual expenditures, and reports and evaluations for such programs.”
H.R. 3159 signals that Democrats and Republicans alike understand the value of putting resources into proper evaluation of programs in order to prioritize efficiency and effectiveness. It also recognizes that both Congress and the American public have the right to know where foreign aid money is being spent, and how.
Contrast this approach with those taken by the Republican candidates for President during Tuesday’s primary debate in Las Vegas. An audience member asked the candidates:
“The American people are suffering in our country right now. Why do we continue to send foreign aid to other countries when we need all the help we can get for ourselves?”
The answers prompted sustained applause from the audience:
Rick Perry: “I think it’s time for this country to have a very real debate about foreign aid….and I think it’s time for us to have a very serious discussion about defunding the United Nations…”
Mitt Romney: “Part of [foreign aid] is humanitarian aid around the world. I happen to think it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give to another country for humanitarian aid. We ought to get the Chinese to take care of the people…we’re spending more on foreign aid than we ought to be spending…”
Ron Paul: “On foreign aid: that should be the easiest thing to cut. It’s not authorized in the Constitution that we can take money from you and give it to particular countries around the world. To me, foreign aid is taking money from poor people in this country and giving it to rich people in poor countries and it becomes weapons of war…I would cut all foreign aid. I would treat everybody equally and fairly.”
Michele Bachmann: “Cutting back on foreign aid is one thing; being reimbursed by nations that we have liberated is another…we should look to Iraq and Libya to reimburse us for part of what we have done to liberate these nations…”
Why did the attack lines on foreign aid spending resonate with the audience? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I think there are two answers. One is that the American public, according to a 2010 poll, thinks that the U.S. government spends nearly 25% of the federal budget on foreign aid, when the actual amount spent is less than 1%. Even if this poll overestimated the differences, it still speaks to a concerning level of misinformation about foreign aid spending that is being exploited by the Republican candidates. Second is the sustained debate in this country about the need for vast reductions to the soaring national debt. It connects back to the “compassion fatigue” argument – that in times of uncertainty, fatigue sets in vis-à-vis issues that seem vexing and impossible to fix.
However, some fairly astonishing progress has been made recently due in large part to the benefits of effective, accountable aid programs. For one, we recently blogged about Action Aid’s report about reductions in aid dependency among the world’s poorest countries by an average of one-third. Additionally, this week, the World Health Organization announced that malaria deaths worldwide have declined by 20% over the past decade.
When Ron Paul says that foreign aid becomes weapons of war, when Michele Bachmann argues that Iraq and Libya should reimburse us for our actions, and when Mitt Romney thinks the Chinese should handle funding for humanitarian aid, all Americans should be concerned. If this country claims to be exceptional – a beacon of hope and freedom to those less fortunate around the world through both example and deed – we must recognize that foreign aid programs are some of our greatest weapons of all; they are weapons of peace.
This understanding has permeated similar debates among our allies. Reassuringly, when the UK and Australian public pushed back at their governments’ proposals to cut foreign aid, both governments – one conservative, one more liberal – ring-fenced their aid budgets. The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act’s provisions might not make for as captivating of rallying cries as those uttered at the debate, but they represent steps toward building a more robust, effective aid program. We remain determined that this belief in foreign aid can also come to dominate the debate in the U.S., and we urge all those who feel outraged by these comments to join the fight to dissuade our politicians from promoting such reckless indifference for the plight of the world’s poorest people.
Today’s front-page story in the New York Times paints a grim picture for the U.S. foreign aid budget:
“As lawmakers scramble to trim the swelling national debt, both the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate have proposed slashing financing for the State Department and its related aid agencies at a time of desperate humanitarian crises and uncertain political developments. The proposals have raised the specter of deep cuts in food and medicine for Africa, in relief for disaster-affected places like Pakistan and Japan, in political and economic assistance for the new democracies of the Middle East, and even for the Peace Corps.”
Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), the Chair of the House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee (which oversees the U.S. foreign aid budget), justified the impending cuts by implying that current foreign aid spending often does not fall in line with fiscal responsibility or American security interests:
“She recalled a State Department envoy’s informing her of $250 million in relief to Pakistan after last year’s devastating floods. ‘I said I think that’s bad policy and bad politics,’ she said in an interview at her office on Capitol Hill. ‘What are you going to say to people in the United States who are having flooding?’”
To anyone asking that question, we say this – we live on a fundamentally connected planet, and like it or not, what happens in Pakistan has an impact on our security, our health, our economy and our humanity. It is both morally right and in our interests to see that our country is part of the wider world, and behave in ways that live out our principles. 20 million people were affected by the flood, it caused $43 billion in damages, and stretched to the limit a government and people who are vital to our long-term interests in fighting terrorism and creating a safer world.
We simply do not accept that slashing aid spending is the fiscally responsible thing to do.
A few facts bear repeating:
The United States spends only 0.2% of total Gross National Income (GNI) on foreign aid, far less than the vast majority of OECD countries.
The American public enormously overestimates the amount of money actually spent by the U.S. Government on foreign aid
As the Times article explains, and as the chart below indicates, though U.S. foreign aid spending has increased in absolute terms from $24.23 billion in 1977 to $34.72 billion in 2011, it has fallen in relative terms from 1.6% to 0.95% of the budget over the same period.
U.S. Foreign Aid Since 1977, as a % of the Federal Budget
Source: Congressional Research Service, as displayed in the New York Times
Moreover, this issue has transcended partisanship. Although the Republican-controlled House has proposed deep cuts across the board to President Obama’s FY2012 foreign aid request, the Democrat-controlled Senate has also proposed cuts. In today’s toxic political climate in Washington, it seems reassuring – indeed, miraculous – when both parties manage to put partisanship aside to compromise on an important political or economic issue. It can therefore only be called shameful that one of the few issues in which both parties agree is one that could “gravely erode not only America’s influence but also its moral standing as a generous nation in times of crises.”
As Michael Gerson, former speechwriter to President George W. Bush, recently argued, “No one can reasonable claim that the budget crisis exists because America spends too much on bed nets and AIDS drugs. Our massive debt is mainly caused by a combination of entitlement commitments, an aging population and health cost inflation. Claiming courage or credit for irrelevant cuts in foreign assistance is a net subtraction from public seriousness on the deficit.”
Yet, as I read through some of the comments to the Times article today, Gerson’s argument seems to be the minority point of view. One commenter pled: “Bring all the money home. Let our cities rebuild. Forget helping those who can’t help themselves.” Another said: “Forget about the world. Keep our money here!!!!!”
These impassioned pleas to slash the aid budget remind me of another article posted on the Times this past weekend. Entitled “Becoming Compassionately Numb,” Benedict Carey describes the cognitive forces that contribute to human empathy for a person, for a country, or for a cause. Even in less challenging times, “people generally find it harder to extend empathetic concern to a nation that to a neighbor…people often show far more compassion for an individual than for a dozen, or 100, or an entire region.” However, in times of uncertainty, “compassion fatigue” tends to set in: “fatigue often results ‘when you’re seeing the same problems repeatedly, when they’re chronic, and when the outcomes are not good.’”
This article is so compelling precisely because it recognizes that sentiments like widespread support for aid cuts are rooted in complex cognitive instincts, instincts that stem from issues of genuine concern (be it unemployment, debt crises, or Medicare costs). Nonetheless, we live on an interconnected planet where our short and long-term interests are intimately bound up with the short- and long-term interests of everyone else in the world. To turn our backs on the plight of the world’s poorest in the name of fiscal responsibility is, simply put, irresponsible.
Earlier this week, Cord Jefferson criticized the Global Poverty Project’s Live Below the Line campaign. Having just completed the challenge, I agree that it is ridiculous to claim that cutting down your food budget for a week can replicate the experience of 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty. I can confirm that a $1.50-a-day diet, while modest by my usual standards, is a very manageable sacrifice. It is certainly far removed from what I can only imagine is the grinding and thankless day-to-day reality for the world's poor.
However, the Global Poverty Project does not claim, and has never claimed, to reproduce the experience of living in poverty, except in a symbolic way. If we had, we would have deserved every bit of the cynicism directed our way and then some.
Jefferson called Live Below the Line a "pretend to be poor experiment," the first indicator that he may be missing the point. Firstly, no one is being asked to pretend to be poor. In fact, the effect of living below the line for a week is to make us realize how rich—and lucky—we actually are. Live Below the Line aims to shed light on the poverty of others, not mimic it ourselves.
Secondly, Live Below the Line is not an experiment but a demonstration. Like any advocacy organization, our mission is to build a case for change, partly by highlighting the injustices we aim to correct. We don’t apologize for using symbolic action as a means to achieve this. In fact, what is the alternative? History shows that all protest movements rely on symbols—boycotts, strikes, sit-ins, flags, songs—because if we had the power to change policy immediately, then we wouldn't need to protest. Symbolic action on whatever scale, from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to wearing a simple wristband, is designed to disrupt complacency and force people to think.
Live Below the Line is an effective way to get our message through the static. New audiences are being reached because thousands of supporters take the campaign's message to their network of friends, family, classmates, and co-workers. By personalizing the issue a little, we can make it relevant and memorable. Celebrities like Hugh Jackman have also supported the campaign, bringing the message to millions of new eyes and ears.
We live in a world that could fix the problem of extreme poverty—not overnight, but sooner than most people realize. The global community, through the Millennium Development Goals, has even laid out a realistic plan to make it happen within a generation. Of course no one believes it will be easy. It will take courage and vigilance. At the Global Poverty Project, we won't stop thinking of new and different ways to keep current and future supporters informed and energized for the battles ahead.
“There are big social-justice issues out there, and the Global Poverty Project takes them on – we mess with the world’s status quo.”
This remark from GPP USA’s Operations Advisor John Wilkerson was met with cheers – no doubt of profound appreciation – from Utah State University’s graduating students on May 7th. A USU graduate himself, Wilkerson was the keynote speaker of the university’s 124th Commencement Ceremony, and also the recipient of an honorary doctorate.
As man who wears many hats, he was keen to bestow some of his professional wisdom to a crowd full of future leaders.
Wilkerson told the students that “talent, ambition and compassion are all attributes that are critical to their success, but not as separate traits.” (Credit: Tim Vitale, Utah State Today)
Wilkerson has certainly embodied this mantra throughout his various and far-reaching endeavors. Currently on the executive committee of Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, and the national board of the Smithsonian Institute; formerly the president and executive committee member of New York City-based American Folk Art Museum, and a member of the Cornell Council (where he received his master’s and his doctorate in managerial economics); and president and founder of the E.L. Rose Land Conservancy – yes, you’re reading that correctly – and his professional career as an expert consultant in the realms of business and healthcare is far from over.
Further qualifying the benefit of a simultaneous presence of attributes, John told the students that
“Each attribute by itself is necessary but not sufficient for success. You have the opportunity to combine them and produce a better and just world while simultaneously building a great career.” (Credit: Tim Vitale, Utah State Today)
This helps explain why Wilkerson has maintained his multiple and diverse career path, and why he stressed the importance of constant reinvention during his speech. John’s newest reinvention through his involvement with the GPP comes out of his knowledge that the importance of meritocracy in America, and our vast exposure to good fortune as Americans, entitles us to make the world a better place in addition to pursuing successful careers.
Whether it’s fighting global poverty or focusing on another significant issue, he urged the students to share their gifts with the world so that others can open up similar doors of opportunity.
“Find the big social issues that resonate for you, commit to them and do your part to move our world onward and upward.” (Credit: Tim Vitale, Utah State Today)
Later on, Wilkerson, a business leader turned philanthropist, invited USU’s graduates to join him in our fight against poverty – and to realize that their unique advantages will empower them to empower others (Credit: Arrin Brunson, The Salt Lake Tribune).
We have the key; it’s just a matter of finding the door.