Being a truly ethical company means including a moral code of conduct at every level of the business. For my company, it ranges from how we treat our team to using recycled packaging to empowering women across the world. It also meant adopting Fair Trade as the best way to source ethically made jewelry.
Only recently the Fair Trade model of commerce rose out of obscurity in the US to go from shopping trend to a social movement in its own right. Fair Trade products, like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, now sit on the shelves of your favorite supermarket. Because of the high standards required in obtaining and keeping a Fair Trade certification, Fair Trade products have become gauges of quality and ethical production all around the world; it is much more than a feel-good sticker on a pound of coffee.
It’s important to know that worldwide, women are the most affected by poverty.
In fact, the poorer the country, the greater the discrepancy between men and women in rights, in economic power, in education.
According to a UN report from 1995, 70% of the world’s poor are women. It’s an astounding, bleak and dismal statistic but that means that they also are the group most in need of change and support. It is also where one company could potentially have the greatest impact.
One of the big issues that keeps women from rising out of poverty in poor or developing countries is that they are often limited to jobs deemed “suitable” for their gender, meaning low-pay and low-status positions. Women also often face discrimination and harassment when working those jobs. There is no breaking the cycle of poverty when the deck of cards is stacked against an entire gender.
Unfortunately, the situation in the fashion industry is much the same, if not accentuated. Most of the clothes we buy in stores today are made in Asia and there’s a good probability that one or more of the garments you own was made in Bangladesh, as the country continues to become a huge sweatshop for the fast fashion industry. Most workers in this industry are young females because they are cheaper than men and easier to take advantage of; they are denied basic education and are culturally trained to be more docile. In Bangladesh, about 68% of the garment workforce is young females, usually aged between 13 and 20. Few get to keep their jobs after marriage (both employers and husbands often look down on it once they marry) and fewer advance to meaningful positions within the factories. This is why so many of the almost 1,200 victims of the Rana Plaza sweatshop collapse of 2012 were females. That’s why Fair Trade can help.
1. Fair trade promotes gender equality
One of the best things coming out of Fair Trade is the fact that it can actually promote gender equality. Although there is still a strong division of labor in developing countries because of traditional roles divided between men and women, women have used this division to their advantage and are using handicrafts and jewelry making as their gateway. Because men still mostly own plantations and farm lands, women have traditionally been pushed to artisan work. So, buying more Fair Trade jewelry from women owned cooperatives helps empowering women economically and nudge the scale towards gender equality.
2. Fair trade encourages women to own their business
One of the tenets of Fair Trade is that the artisans must own the workshop they work in. So, in order for women create and sell jewelry with a Fair Trade label, they need to form a cooperative, which they own and where only they have decision making power, get to own and manage their own finances and get to decide to future of their own lives.
3. Fair trade offers higher pays respective of the industry
Because Fair Trade guarantees premiums higher than normal for the industry or the country, more money goes to the female jewelry craftsmen and artisans. With more money, the owners of the workshop can better the lives of their fellow co-op owners, provide better working conditions, offer continuing education to its members, provide healthcare benefits such as maternity leave and paid sick leave. Benefits rarely seen in these countries. Statistically speaking, by large margins women are more likely to focus their funds on healthcare, safety, and education.
4. Fair trade certification requires community development
One of the other important tenets of Fair Trade is that part of the extra premiums the producers/artisans receive for their wares is that part of these revenues have to help the community improve. Co-ops usually help building schools, healthcare centers, new communications systems, credit programs, technical training programs, and better transportation. All of these improvements raise the standard of living of the whole community, not just for those directly involved with the Fair Trade co-op. These improvements also increase production and help assure financial stability and self-sufficiency.
One of the most important take aways is that women are considered high impact investments by financial entities and non-profits. This means that women are more responsible financially and are better than their male counterparts at stretching their money. That’s why if you help a mother, you also help her children and the subsequent generations. By supporting the economic empowerment of women, we can turn these terrible indicators of the cycle of poverty.
This is why fair trade is more than ethical commerce model, it is a way to solve many of the world’s most critical problems. Companies like Vavavida were created for that purpose. My co-founders and I were adamant that if we were going to help women, we had to be true and honest and committed to our cause. Offering fair trade jewelry to our customers was a way to help women unlock access their true potential and put fair trade on the map in the US. That’s why we created the Committing to Women Club where we offer customers both a way to get know the amazing fair trade products we know exist and have them participate in investing in woman’s future.