December 2010
November 19, 2010

The choice is yours Give union. Give fair.

Author: Clarisse Butler Banks
Source: NYSUT United

The holiday gift-buying season is in full swing and more consumers are sending the message that they support safe working conditions and fair wages for workers here and abroad. Demand is increasing for products that carry the Fair Trade label as savvy shoppers search for affordable products with an eye toward human rights.

"NYSUT members recognize that they have a choice when they shop," said NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Lee Cutler. "As consumer demand continues to grow for Fair Trade, union-made and sweat-free products, we send an undeniable message to retailers and even big-box stores about the kinds of products they need to carry."

Consumers guarantee that farmers, other workers and artisans receive a fair price for their goods and can support their families by purchasing products that carry the Fair Trade label and by supporting businesses belonging to the Fair Trade Federation.

Fair Trade products are environmentally sound and the process supports democracy. When workers organize into a cooperative, they decide how their profits will be used, whether to build schools, provide potable water or improve housing and facilities. The designation also means workers earn enough so they can send their children to school.

NYSUT members have several choices when making their holiday purchases. Below are some popular holiday gift ideas and information to help you to make an informed choice.

Coffee

Did you know?

After petroleum, coffee is the world's most valuable traded commodity.

(Source: www.globalexchange.org)

Over the last 20 years, set prices for coffee, chocolate and tea have fluctuated drastically, disproportionately impacting the small, family farms and cooperatives responsible for the bulk of the world's coffee production.

"While corporations continue to profit, millions of farmers and farm workers have found themselves in desperate poverty," said Anne Kelly, coordinator of the Fair Trade Project of the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State.

"Too often, children are forced to work alongside their parents just to make ends meet."

A report in 2006 found an estimated 4 million children in Kenya spend their days laboring instead of going to school.

Buying Fair Trade coffee ensures growers are paid a fair price for the beans they harvest and can afford to take care of their families. Fair trade guarantees some stability for farmers as well, affording them income they can count on to invest in the future of their farms, their families and their communities.

Keeping in line with an environmental agenda, most Fair Trade coffee is also organic and shade grown and a product of sustainable agricultural methods.

Several retailers, including Starbucks, now carry coffee with the Fair Trade logo. The Labor-Religion Coalition also partners with Deans Beans, a 100 percent organic and Fair Trade beanery located in Massachusetts. Visit www.labor-religion.org for more information.

For coffee that is 100 percent American made, processed and packaged, visit www.usacoffeecompany.com.

Chocolate

Did you know?

Americans consume about 3.3 billion pounds of chocolate each year.

Ninety percent of the world's cocoa is grown on small, family farms, with the largest producers of raw cocoa located in Ivory Coast, Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria and Brazil. In many cases, the work of harvesting cocoa beans falls on children, who are often trafficked to do the work.

"Corporations make huge profits on the backs of children who work under hazardous and inhumane conditions and cannot afford to feed themselves or attend school," Kelly said.

Fair Trade partnerships mean the end of forced child and adult labor. The farmers responsible for producing and harvesting cocoa receive a living wage and working conditions are healthy and safe.

Equal Exchange is a leading distributor of Fair Trade chocolates and cocoa, as well as other sweet and savory treats. Visit www.labor-religion.org to place an order.

Apparel

Did you know?

In November, Bangladeshi garment workers (among the lowest paid in the world) received a slight raise, bringing their monthly minimum wage to $43. Union organizers fighting for a living wage of $72 per month continue to be targeted by the government.

(Source: humantrafficking.change.org)

Abuses in the apparel industry are well documented, but as consumers increasingly shop with their conscience, the availability of merchandise carrying the "sweat-free" and "union-made in America" labels is on the rise. Some brand names of union-made clothing include King Louie, UnionLine/GreyBear, Carhart, Platinum Sportswear, Boxercraft, Ozark Mountain Apparel and American Apparel. For a complete listing of American-made clothing and accessories, check out the AFL-CIO's Union Label & Service Trades Department online, www.unionlabel.org.

School groups and the state have taken a stand against child labor and sweatshop conditions in the garment industry. Last year, New York signed on as a member of the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium. At least five local governments have signed sweat-free purchasing agreements. More than 100 school districts and several colleges and universities across the state also have committed to purchasing sweat-free apparel. Visit www.sweatfree.org/policieslist to see if your district is on the list.

Other ideas

Almost as popular as Fair Trade sweet and savory treats, many artisan goods and handcrafts also carry the Fair Trade label. The Fair Trade process allows artisans to earn an income using their unique skill set. It also enables them to maintain their cultural traditions.

Retailers, including Ten Thousand Villages (with New York stores in Albany, Ithaca and Williamsville) and Global Exchange online, stock handmade baskets, rugs, jewelry, music instruments and other home goods created by people earning a fair price for their hard work.

Looking for a fun toy for your little one? Radio Flyer wagons, tricycles and ride-on toys are made in Illinois by members of the United Auto Workers.

Visit www.redwagons.com for more information. For union-made photo gifts, visit www.picuzzi.com. Members of the Graphic Communications International Union will create your photo books, cards, invitations and much more.

The AFL-CIO designated Nov. 26-Dec. 5 as Buy Union Week. Visit www.unionlabel.org and click on Union Products for a complete list of union-made gifts and offerings.

The Fair Trade Federation offers an online holiday gift guide, including the list of federation members in New York state, at www.fairtradefederation.org.