How worrisome to be shopping this holiday season! Toy recalls, lead and carcinogens found in lipstick and other cosmetics, reports of sweatshops and slave labor operations all can cause a shopper to lose confidence with every purchase. Is the portable electronic game player that you buy for your nine-year-old manufactured using the labor of another parent's nine-year-old? Will the toy that you buy for the kindergarten grab-bag turn up on a list of recalls the day after Christmas? Are the gourmet coffee and chocolate that fill your secretary's gift basket grown by people unable to rise above poverty no matter their many hours and years of back-breaking work? Were the jeans you buy for your teen-ager sewn by a worker in an ill-lit basement who toils for 12 or 14 hours a day but can barely afford food? A conscientious consumer is tempted to scowl, "Bah! Humbug!"

But there is an alternative. Give fair trade gifts this year. Fair trade is a market-based system of trade that factors social and economic justice into the buy-and-sell equation. Fair trade rests on the twin principles of a fair wage to the producers of the goods and an environmentally sustainable process of producing the goods. Usually located in developing countries, the producers of fair trade products, whether they are farmers or manufacturers of goods, form cooperatives which are governed democratically by the members. The cooperatives ensure that each member receives a fair wage for the work he does or the crops she grows. They also undertake community improvements depending on the needs of the community in question. Perhaps a cooperative will build a child care center so that mothers can work, or a health care facility so the members can have their basic health care needs met. The members of another cooperative in another part of the world may be more concerned with building the infrastructure to provide clean water to their village. Sometimes a cooperative will provide loans to the artisans to buy materials or equipment to produce their items and earn a living. In addition to ensuring a fair wage and contributing to the community, members of the cooperatives are committed to environmental sustainability. Food products are organic. Textiles are dyed using traditional vegetable dyes.

The variety of fair trade gifts is increasing almost monthly. Fair trade food products include coffee, tea, chocolate and cocoa, sugar, rice, wine, bananas, olive oil and many, many more items. Tablecloths, placemats, bedspreads, comforters and other home decorating items are available. A shopper can easily find men's, women's and children's clothing. Toys and musical instruments are plentiful. Journals, stationery and other paper products are easy to find. Just do a search on the web to find an online store or a real-world store that offers fair trade products.

In addition to being more and more abundant in variety, fair trade items are delightful gifts to receive. The unique, handmade items demonstrate a traditional craft or style. Colors in clothing and other textiles are rich and nuanced. The toys are whimsical and charming. No fair trade products are mass-produced or mass-marketed, so instead of getting what everybody else has, your gift recipients will get what nobody else has.

It is possible to shop with confidence this holiday season. By buying fair trade, you can ensure that the gifts you give your loved ones bring comfort and joy not only to the recipient but to the people who grew or produced the gift.


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