Holiday Gift Guide: Fair Trade

It’s about time to do a bit of holiday shopping, and if you are anything like me, you have a few tough-to-buy-for folks on your list. Many of us are blessed to be able to buy ourselves the things we want, when we want them. That’s why finding a great gift at holiday time can be such a challenge. If starting a tradition of charitable giving was vetoed at your last family meeting, try fair trade products for this year’s holiday gifts.

Why fair trade? When you purchase fair trade products you ensure that the artisan or worker who produced the product earns a fair, living wage. Fair trade combats some of the cruelty of this world, protecting children from unhealthy and unsafe child labor abuses, and helping women recover and restore their self-worth after escaping from sex trafficking. Buying fair trade means investing in the kind of entrepreneurship that transforms communities and lifts people out of extreme poverty. Fair trade is good for the environment, too. Coffee, cacao, sugar and other crops that are traded fairly are grown by farmers who have a stake in their future and who work to create a high quality product and a bright future for their families.

So, does this mean fair trade is more expensive? Well, sometimes it is, but not always, and not by much. Most often the quality is higher, yet the prices on fairly traded goods are comparable to those products that may be unethically sourced and produced. Fairly traded products tend to be unique and crafted with pride.

Here are some of my favorite fair trade gifts for this holiday season:

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1. A Mighty Morning Coffee (Peru): Grown by a cooperative of farmers, who have used the proceeds from fairly traded products to learn sustainable and organic farming, and reinvest earnings into their cooperative and their community.
2. Feather Weave Scarf (India): This scarf, like many from fair trade retailer Ten Thousand Villages, helps support business education and training for ethnically and socially disadvantaged artisans in India.
3. Create World Peace Jute Tote (India): Perfect as a market bag or everyday tote, this piece is handcrafted by women who have escaped sex trafficking and are learning literacy and life skills while earning a living wage.
4. Hand Painted Candle (South Africa): The women of a small South African village, where unemployment levels can be up to 50%, work together to create these hand painted candles using traditional designs.
5. Milk Chocolate with Sea Salt and Toffee: Chocolate and coffee are great places to start adding fair trade purchases to your life. Cacao and coffee farmers are some of the hardest hit workers when it comes to the unfair labor practices of plantation style farming. Every time you choose fair trade chocolate you make life a little sweeter for farmers.
6. A Little Bird Told Me Note Cards (Bangladesh): Isn’t it a thrill to get a piece of “real” mail? I always get so excited to see a handwritten note in my mailbox. The only thing better is knowing these note cards are made by women who are receiving education, health care and access to loans.
7. Steel Drum Metal Art (Haiti): This is one of my favorites because it wins the trifecta: it supports industry in still-struggling Port-au-Prince, Haiti, it is made from recycled materials, and it is absolutely beautiful.
8. Luscious Lips Organic Vegan Lip Balm (USA): Made in the USA out of certified fair trade, organic and vegan materials this lip balm is perfect for keeping stockings stuffed, and lips moist and mistletoe ready.
9. Aqua Blue Flower Alligator Hair Clip (Malawi): This beauty was imagined by an American designer who fell in love with African textiles while living in Malawi and now sells accessories and handbags made by Malawi women. These women earn a living wage and are breaking free from the cycle of poverty.
10. One World 2009 Chenin Blanc (South Africa): Check labels carefully when buying wine and you’re likely to find a fairly traded treasure like this South African Chenin Blanc. What’s better than a little vino? A vino that helps farmers recover from economic disadvantage and care for sustainable vineyards, that’s what!
11. Hand Stamped Owl Leather Wallet (India): To be honest I was surprised to discover Worldstock Fair Trade when browsing Overstock.com one day. They’ve collected thousands of beautiful items, including this cheery little wallet, from all over the world and sell them at fair prices with 60-70% of the proceeds going directly to the artisan. As an environmental bonus, all Worldstock items ship carbon neutral.
12. Handcrafted Acacia Wood Divided Serving Bowl (Philippines): Hand carved from sustainably collected acacia wood in the Philippines, this bowl would be a perfect gift for the entertainer in your life. Who hosts the best parties? The friend who serves snacks in this beauty!

For more information about fair trade, there is a comprehensive and accurate Wikipedia entry on Fair Trade,that can explain the basics. More info is available through the certification organization, Fair Trade USA. Online retailers Ten Thousand Villages, Novica, Dsenyo and others featured in the gift guide have web pages that explain their mission and values. As with most things, not everyone agrees that fair trade is the right thing to do but if you do a bit of research and buy from reputable suppliers, you can be confident that your purchase is helping individuals and families worldwide. What sustainable, ethically sourced or fairly traded gifts will you exchange this year?

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