Monday, April 23, 2007

Fair trade at your door steps

Fair trade's strategic intent is to deliberately work with marginalised producers and workers in order to help them move from a position of vulnerability to security and economic self-sufficiency. It also aims at empowering them to become stakeholders in their own organizations and actively play a wider role in the global arena to achieve greater equity in international trade.

Fair trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, which seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers - especially in the South. Fair trade organizations (backed by consumers) are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade. (From Wikipedia)

The other day I had attended this Chennai City planning thing that was organized some days ago. While sitting there and discussing things, my eyes were opened to a lot of things. Not that I can do much just because my eyes are open extra wide - except to look and feel more helpless. Anyways, the thing is, I came out of the place realizing the way things are.

In order to clean up the city, we have been relocating the local slums to places that are 20 to 30 kilometers from the city - where their primary economic activities take place. Agreed that they are being given government housing, but at what cost? They cannot work anymore. If they want to work, they have to travel the distance! This is difficult enough with your own vehicle leave alone using the public transport system to get that far and back.

Their business activity is usually in the neighborhood. It is a symbiotic relationship here. The vendors that come selling our veggies in the morning, the local pavement shops, our helpers who come to cook and clean. We are dependant on them as much as they are dependant on us. And moving them out of the city means that this symbiotic relationship is cut.

That aside, I began to think of other ways that we have been putting these people out of business. We somehow prefer to shop in the new supermarket that has sprung up in the neighbourhood to the old neighbourhood store. There are vegetable supermarkets now; those snazzy vegetable places where you get all the vegetable under on roof! (Actually, I like these veggie supermarkets a lot.)

Anyways, I was trying to think of how we can support fair trade right outside our doorsteps (this is especially applicable to those in the 'developing' world). Some of this may mean sacrificing a bit of comfort and stuff. but I think it is worth it really.

Why not go to the local neighbourhood grocery store instead of the big supermarkets?

Advantage - the customer service is personal and friendly, and you can avoid those plastic smiles at the checkout counters. The service improves as the frequency of your visit increases. This is not so (usually) with the big supermarkets. They will know your preference. They will trust you and you can even have a credit account which will come in handy at the end of the month!

Disadvantage - you may not get you favourite international brand of spaghetti sauce here. But what the heck. You can buy the regular stuff here and keep those exotic stuff to your once in a way supermarket shopping. And actually, if you are going to be regular with that stuff, you can actually ask this guy to try and stock it for you!

Try visiting the local vegetable market or buy from the vendor instead of going to the veggie supermarket. (This is going to be the most difficult one for me to change.)

Advantage - If you are good at bargaining, you may get it real cheap. If you become a regular, you will get it cheap. You will be feeding a family (many of them rely on these small businesses to feed families). If you are buying it from the street hawker, you get to buy veggies right at your door step!

Disadvantage - You will have to bargain. You may get fleeced. You may have to travel a bit if you are going to the market. Street hawkers may be more expensive. But you are getting it at your doorsteps.

Window shop on the streets instead of malls.

Advantage - You will be feeding a family. You will get stuff for lesser.

Disadvantage - ah well, you may have to walk miles on end. You may end up with stuff that is of not so good a quality (but this ok with things that needn't be of great quality). Haggling.

Go in for fresh juice/tender coconut instead of bottled and/or aerated drinks.

Advantage - Really refreshing. Really healthy. Mostly cheap. No empty calories. No added flavours and colors and all that jazz. You get the real thing here.

Disadvantage - watch out for the water in fresh juice! You cannot just pull it out of the fridge and guzzle it. Alternately, you can think of making lime juice and storing it in the fridge. It is a bit of work but it is better than the artificial zing things.

Encourage small business when you see one.

Advantage - you are encouraging an entrepreneur. You may actually find a steal. You may end up feeding a family.

Disadvantage - you may end up with something you don’t want.

Well, that is all I could come up with. Let me know if you have any ideas. One warning though - please don’t buy something if you don't need it. Be it big shop guys of small shop guys, think before you buy. Do you really need it? Really, really need it?!

Happy shopping! And oh, don’t forget brand faithfulness. Be faithful to the local neighbourhood chap that has served the neighbourhood for decades!

Disclaimer: I am not saying you have to do any of this. And you don't even have to agree with this whacko idea of mine. But you are free to express your opinion.

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