Monday, 14 September 2009

Fair Trade: Investing in Women

Like every industry, the fashion world has suffered severe casualties since the start of the recession. Interestingly, fair trade goods--usually more expensive and specialized--appear to be weathering the storm. According to Amber Chand, the owner of the Amber Chand Collection, in an interview with NPR, her business has expanded by 22% this year.

Chand is a refugee herself, having fled Uganda during Idi Amin's reign of terror. Now, she says, she looks through the newspapers to identify a source of conflict:

"I swoop in and then identify a group of talented, skilled artisan women who live there [in conflict zones] and who are clearly going to have to rebuild their lives in the shadow of either war or genocide or civil strife."
 When we buy fair trade products, Chand explains, we are actually investing in these women. But here's another point Chand did not make: while, yes, it's important to provide a source of income to a disadvantaged group, these business arrangements also help women gain economic independence and social respect. We as a society can put all the factories we want in developing nations but that alone will not improve those nations' economies. Fair trade arrangements provide women with a financial education: once they learn how to run a business, they can teach their daughters to do the same, they can expand their businesses, and they can climb the social ladder. Through fair trade, developing countries can eventually form healthy capitalist economies without serious cost to human dignity and--even better--with the equal participation of women. Pretty sweet, right? If you're interested in helping disadvantaged women around the world but don't feel you can afford fair trade goods, you can lend money to a specific entrepreneur at (minimum loan is $25 and you will be paid back). Vassar always tells us to give back to the community--it's about time we made a start.

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