Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Video Break

I'm working on a post about fair trade clothing and thought I'd share this video as a warm-up for my upcoming topic...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Party Time

Well, I decided to follow my own advice and host a combination fair trade shopping party and fair trade chocolate tasting. If you're local (Humboldt County, CA), I hope you will join me on Sunday, December 5th for some excellent shopping and tasty chocolate - email me for directions!

I've already received the merchandise from Project Have Hope, Trade As One, and Mayan Hands, and everything is absolutely gorgeous! I've been doing a little advance shopping already. :-)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fair Trade Christmas Ornaments

The holiday season has provided me with a generous bounty of blog post ideas! Today let's talk about Christmas tree ornaments - they are fun, inexpensive, and everyone loves them. Buy them for your own tree and grab a few more to decorate the tops of your packages with this year! Here are some of my favorites -

Peacock ornament with traditional zardozi beading and embroidery from India.
(There are many other beautiful animal designs also available from Greenheart.)

Beaded reindeer ornament from MayaWorks.

Ceramic star ornaments from Partners for Just Trade.

Blue lotus ornament from SERRV (tons more cute designs here!).

Resplendent Rooster Ornament from SERRV
(note to hubby: I want one pretty please!)

Gold Star Garland from Trade As One

Haitian Straw Stars from One World Project

Llama Christmas Ornament made from reclaimed rubber from DIGS

Hummingbird Gourd Ornament from TurningLife

Hand Embroidered Ornaments from Unity Fair Trade Marketplace

Friday, November 26, 2010

Giveaway Results

Thanks so much to all who entered my fair trade chocolate giveaway! It was fun to read your responses and learn a little more about you all.

Congratulations to Aimee, the lucky winner of the chocolate bars!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Say No to the Mall!

This year, why not spend the day after Thanksgiving relaxing with your loved ones instead of getting up at four in the morning to rush around town like a maniac, fighting the crushing horde of mindless shoppers for that last five dollar sweater?

Not only will you avoid the aggravation of dealing with crowded stores; you'll also be voting with your dollars - telling manufacturers and retailers that you care about fair trade, and want to see it become more widely available. And the gifts that you find will be beautiful and truly unique, and will bring joy and positive energy to your recipients.

Wondering where to start? Right here, of course! I've got you covered, with the Fair Trade Federation's 2010 Holiday Gift Guide, Fair Trade USA's Holiday Gift Guide, the Fair Trade Federation's searchable database, as well as with my own fair trade gift ideas - under $30 and over $30.

If there's something specific that you're looking for, feel free to leave a comment here and I'll do my best to help you track it down. Happy shopping!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

10 Fair Trade Holiday Gift Ideas Over $30

Welcome to part two of my fair trade gift guide! If you're one of the lucky few in this economy who can afford to buy holiday gifts over $30.00 this year, this list is for you... happy shopping!

Tub of Organic Fair Trade Vegan Peanut Butter Bites by Sjaaks Chocolates - $65.00
Because every gift list should begin with chocolate!

Flowers For Good by Organic Bouquet - prices range from $44.95 to $69.95
Dozens of different bouquets available, each benefiting a different charity.

Fireworks Large Lacquer Vase by Ten Thousand Villages - $88.00
Lust... just lust.

Fair Trade Organic Vegan Chocolate Gift Basket (scroll down; it's the second from the bottom) by Garuda International - $76.00
I'm in a sugar coma just looking at the picture...

Amazon Finger Puppet Set by Fair Trade Winds - $38.00
Could these be any cuter?

Mens Organic V-Neck Sweater by Fair Indigo - $59.00
A simple, timeless sweater for your blue-eyed sweetie.

Envirosax Bloom Collection by Fair Indigo - $38
This set of five reuseable grocery bags comes with its own handy-dandy pouch!

Vegan Leather Tote bag by Fair Indigo - $79
What can I say, I'm a sucker for purple, and a sucker for purses (seriously - you should see how many I own!).

Coffee Sampler Basket by Equal Exchange - $57.00
Five popular blends to sample, attractively packaged in a fair trade woven basket.

Grape Garnet and Recycled Sterling Silver Ring by McFarland Designs - $63.00
Okay, I hope this doesn't come across as shameless self-promotion, but it just so happens that I make fair trade jewelry for a living, so why not throw in one of my own designs, right? ;-)

Remember, when you choose to give fair trade gifts this year, your gift does triple duty - first, the gift itself of course brings joy to your loved one; second, it supports workers and artisans around the globe; and third, it will hopefully inspire curiosity and discussion among your family and friends, giving you an excellent opportunity to explain why fair trade is so very important, especially during this magical time of year.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Video Break: Voice of a Mountain

I discovered this film about a year ago, and have watched it several times since then. I find it to be especially relevant and poignant because the setting is Guatemala and my son is Guatemalan, but I think even without that personal connection, it's just a really powerful documentary that does an amazing job of personalizing the hopes and the struggles of some of the people affected by the fair trade movement.

Maybe tonight you could postpone watching Supernanny or whatever other crap is on TV on a Friday night and watch this instead. I'm pretty sure you'll be glad you did.
Voice of a Mountain is a video documentary of the lives of rural Guatemalan coffee farmers who took up arms against their government in a civil war that lasted 36 years. This documentary explores Guatemala's dark history from the perspective of those who saw armed revolution as their only hope for change in a poverty-ridden nation under years of military dictatorship. Ex-combatants talk about the bleak reality of the country that led to their involvement in the war, and the response of genocide from the Guatemalan government against its people. The documentary gives insight into their motives for joining an armed conflict as interviews reveal personal accounts of struggle, hope, tragedy, and the fruits of their resistance.

The signing of the Peace Accords between the Guatemalan Government and Guerrilla forces in 1996 officially ended the longest civil war in Latin American history. Voice of a Mountain documents the reality of rural Guatemala in the wake of the civil war. It looks at the ideals and goals of patriots who fought against their government with the goal of changing their country and asks if they achieved what they were fighting for. The societal conditions that led to civil war are compared with the reality of three rural communities in present day Guatemala in an attempt to discover if conditions for the majority of those living in the country today have changed since the signing of the Peace Accords. The day-to-day realities of these three different communities who find their livelihood intricately connected to agricultural labor are documented, as they cope with the struggles of poverty, increasing debt, decreasing job opportunities, and the temptation to migrate north in search of a better life for their children.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

10 Fair Trade Holiday Gift Ideas Under $30

Hello holiday shoppers! I know you're on a budget, but don't let that stop you from spreading the fair trade goodness this year - I've put together a list of my top 10 picks for fair trade gifts under $30, and it's kind of ridiculous how much fun I had just window shopping! There's so much great fair trade merchandise available - it just takes some time to find it all. Hopefully this list will get you started.

Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comment section, and remember, when your loved one thanks you for the beautiful/thoughtful/delicious gift, take a moment to highlight the fair trade aspect of what you bought - after all, knowledge is the most precious gift of all, right? :-)

Fair Trade Sampler by Equal Exchange - $27.00
A little bit of everything to start the day off right - coffee, tea, and hot cocoa!

Simple but beautiful, and I really love the cuff design.

Organic Fair Trade Vegan Chocolate Truffle Assortment by Sjaaks Chocolates - $11.95
I buy about a half-dozen of these every year before Christmas and keep them around the house for last minute gifts or to round out a gift basket as I'm rushing out the door. They make excellent teachers' gifts as well.

Men's Do Justice Black T-Shirt by Trade As One - $18.50
Other sizes and designs available, including for women and kids.

Women's Striped Scarf by Mayan Hands - $18.00
Five vibrant colors available.

Hanukkah Candles (45 pack) by Global Exchange - $24.00
How can you not love candles this colorful?

Funky Monkeys by Bambootique - $22.00 each
These are too cute for words!

Blue Dot Organic Reusable Lunch Tote by Fair Indigo - $25.00
Perfect for just about anyone, from the hard-to-buy-for tween in your life to your hardworking, brown-bagging spouse.

Squeaky the Pig Organic Stuffed Animal by Fair Indigo - $25.00
Many other animals also available.

$25.00 Kiva.org Gift Certificate
You've heard of Kiva, right? You loan money directly to small business owners all over the world, and when the repay you, you can lend the money out again... well, in this case, your gift recipient gets to choose for him or herself - it's a charitable gift with the added fun factor of giftee participation!

I hope you enjoyed these selections, and that you are feeling inspired to make this holiday season a fair trade one! And don't worry, if you've got money burning a hole in your pocket, I'll be back in a day or two with my top ten slightly more expensive gift pics.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fair Trade Bananas

All this talk about fair trade chocolate has resulted in an unwanted side effect for me - constant chocolate cravings. Ugh. So I thought we would take a break from chocolate and talk about something a little more healthful. :-)

Did you know that when bananas first became available to US consumers, just after the Civil War, they were considered a luxury item, and were sold wrapped in foil, peeled and pre-sliced to protect those gentile 19th century citizens from embarrassment over the fruit's indiscreet form? (Thought I'd warm you up with a little entertaining banana trivia.)

Anyway, on to the serious stuff... in order to transform bananas from an expensive indulgence into an affordable snack for the masses, large companies (i.e. Dole, as well as the company that has come to be known in modern times as Chiquita), identified Central America as the ideal place to supply us with inexpensive, delicious bananas. Then they proceeded to clear-cut the rich forests of Nicaragua, Columbia, and Guatemala, and transform them into banana plantations.

In addition to the obvious environmental problems associated with clear-cutting native rain forests and shipping bananas thousands of miles from Central America to wherever you happen to reside, other problems have come to light -
  • In the 1950's, Central America's first democratically elected leader, Jacobo Arbenz, was ousted in a US-sponsored coup. His offense? Asking United Fruit (now Chiquita) to pay fair prices for land and obey the Guatemalan constitution.
  • For decades, this kind of intervention in Central American politics has been commonplace as a means for keeping bananas cheap and plentiful. It has also been instrumental in keeping plantation workers overworked and underpaid.
  • As recently as 2007, Chiquita was fined $25 million by the US government for giving $1.7 million to a right-wing death squad organization in Columbia.
So what, you ask, is a compassionate gal (or guy) to do? Must we give up our beloved banana-laden breakfast smoothies? Fear not, my friend - fair trade is the answer! By purchasing fair trade bananas, you can rest assured that plantation workers are paid a living wage, receive benefits, job security, and better treatment. Fair trade certified farmers are also more likely to use sustainable, traditional growing methods (whether or not they have yet obtained an organic certification, which can be a difficult and costly process).

The information in this post came from the Jan-Feb '09 issue of VegNews magazine (see Food, Inc., beginning on page 40).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Q & A: Reader Mail

Okay, maybe not mail per se, but the other day, Muir posted a comment on my chocolate giveaway post and asked me the following question:
"I also really like the Chocolove certified organic 73% cocoa (http://www.chocolove.com/organic73.htm), but they aren't fair trade, though they seem to have a legitimate explanation: http://www.chocolove.com/faq_child_labor.htm. Your thoughts?"
This is a question that has come up in my own mind several times over the last month in regards to various companies and industries (not just Chocolove) as I have been delving deeper and deeper into the issues around fair trade, so I thought I'd take a moment to open the topic up for discussion.

I recognize that there are a variety of reasons why companies choose to opt out of the formal fair trade designation (perhaps a subject deserving of its own post), and I definitely believe that it's possible to conduct a business ethically without the label. But doing so does inevitably make the situation more complex and confusing for your customers (both existing and potential). The fair trade label means that there is at least some degree of third party involvement - someone with no personal investment in your company's profits who has verified that the ethical practices you claim have some basis in reality. The label also simplifies things for shoppers, since most of us don't have the time and/or inclination to go researching the ethical stance of every individual producer whose products we consider buying.

I have some degree of personal investment in this issue because I am a jewelry designer who uses exclusively ethical/fair trade stones and recycled metals in my work. However, in my case, since fair trade is a relatively new concept in the jewelry/gemstone world, there isn't a formal association I can join or certification I can apply for at this point. So I am kind of in the same boat as Chocolove seems to be (though I am a much smaller business of course!) - from what I can read on the Chocolove site, they seem to care sincerely about these issues, and do what they can from their little corner of the industry to bring about positive change for farmers.

I can't speak for Chocolove, but for my own business, the best I can do is to (a) make the most ethical sourcing decisions possible (even when that means losing sales due to being unable to source some types of stones), and (b) be totally and completely transparent with my customers by passing along every bit of information I have about my sourcing, so that they can make decisions they feel good about.

I'm curious to hear your thoughts. Do any of you have direct experience with the difficulties involved with the formal fair trade certification process? How do you feel about companies that claim to be ethical but don't have the label?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Focus on Chocolate, Part Four: Party Time!

So maybe you've been inspired, either by something you've read here, or something you've learned about elsewhere, to become part of the solution when it comes to the chocolate industry and its ties to child slavery and worker exploitation; if so, good for you!

Maybe you've already taken the all-important first step of eliminating the worst offenders from your grocery list and replacing them with fair trade alternatives. Hooray! Another excellent move.

But what if you're really motivated by this subject and want to go even further?

You can certainly contact chocolate companies to let them know your thoughts on the subject (just use the handy 'contact' links here), and Global Exchange has some other avenues you might consider exploring regarding fair trade chocolate advocacy.

Today, however, I'd like to talk about a way you can spread the word to family and friends about the human rights abuses that run rampant in the cocoa industry, while still having a good time. After all, we tireless activist types need some fun every once in a while, right?

Hosting a fair trade chocolate party is fun and easy - here are some suggestions to get you started.
  • Send invitations to your guests two to three weeks in advance (I like to use Evite); be sure to include all the pertinent details - where and when, but most importantly, let them know that this is a celebration of chocolate, with many tasty reasons to attend. If space allows, you may consider encouraging guests to bring a friend in order to reach the widest audience possible.
  • Decide on your menu; besides chocolate bars (broken into small pieces for tasting), other possibilities could include hot cocoa, coffee or tea (also fair trade of course), brownies, chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, or if you're really feeling festive, how about a chocolate fountain? If you have trouble sourcing any of the items you need for your event, they are all available online.
  • About a week prior to your event, consider sending a reminder email or calling your guests to encourage them to attend.
  • Once the party begins, give folks some time to arrive, settle in, mingle, and taste the chocolate.
  • Next, gather your guests for a quick welcome and begin the film.
  • After the film, take some time to discuss what you've learned. It can be hard to speak to a group of people, but remember that you're doing this for a very important cause. Green America has compiled an extensive list of ideas and talking points for your party, including action steps to ask of your guests, as well as a petition they can sign to encourage Hershey to go fair trade.
  • If your budget allows, consider sending each guest home with a goody bag, perhaps containing a few bite-sized samples of fair trade chocolates, as well as a flyer about fair trade and some fair trade recipes.
Further Reading:
How to Taste Chocolate by Equal Exchange
V-Day's Dark Side by Rodney North

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fair Trade Photo Frames

I'm the type who likes to get my Christmas shopping done early. I prefer to spend the last couple of weeks before the holiday doing fun things like baking, decorating, and visiting - not stressing about gift giving. So it's no surprise that I'm already on the hunt for the perfect gifts, and also not surprising to know that I'm incorporating a lot of fair trade ideas this year.

Today my search was for fair trade photo frames. As usual, I'll be gifting framed photos of my son to a lot of relatives this year, but I wanted to find something a little more unique than in years past. I thought I'd share the results of my search with you here.

Shwse Shwse Picture Frame from Global Exchange, $28.00

Bicycle Chain Picture Frame from Ten Thousand Villages, $20.00

Blessed Memories Frame from Ten Thousand Villages, $28.00

Rolled Paper Frame from Ten Thousand Villages, $16.00

Shesham Picture Frame from Fair Trade Winds, $23.00

Interlocking Picture Frame from 7Loaves, $17.95

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Focus on Chocolate, Part Three: What To Eat

It is rewarding for me to have heard from many of you who were touched by my original post about chocolate production and the industry's ties to child slavery in West Africa. I know that it can be shocking and upsetting to hear about abuses like these, and to become aware that our own actions have been contributing to the problem without our knowledge. To those of you who have allowed yourselves to accept this difficult reality, and have made a commitment to become part of the solution, thank you for your courage and open mindedness.

In an effort to support your progress towards a life composed of kinder daily choices, I have put together a list of some of my favorite fair trade chocolates, along with information about where they can be purchased. Please feel free to add any that I may have overlooked in the comments.

Divine Chocolates is the only fair trade chocolate company that is 45% owned by the cocoa farmers themselves. The fair trade designation ensures that farmers receive a better deal for their cocoa, and company ownership gives them a share of Divine's profits and a stronger voice in the industry. You can buy Divine online or see if it's carried in a store near you.

Equal Exchange Chocolates seem to be a favorite among fair trade chocolate aficionados. I recently bought a box of their minis (the size of the Hershey's minis you probably remember from childhood Halloweens) for my son's birthday pinata and they were a hit with kids and adults alike. Equal Exchange also makes baking cocoa (that's what I use for brownies and chocolate cake) and drinking cocoa. You can buy EE chocolate products online; I couldn't find a searchable database on the site of retail locations but it is carried by my local natural foods Co-op.

Theo Chocolate is the only organic, fair trade, bean-to-bar chocolate factory in the United States. It's made in Seattle, Washington, and I'm feeling tempted to take a trip up there just to experience their factory tour! :-) I have one of their Spicy Chile bars waiting in my cupboard to be tasted, and I'm also lusting after their Peppermint Stick bar, which sadly seems to be out of stock at the moment... You can buy Theo chocolate online or see if it's carried in a store near you.

Green & Black's Organic Chocolates have just become 100% fair trade certified. I am somewhat obsessed with their Maya Gold bar. They also make a white chocolate bar (sadly for me, not vegan) and a baking chocolate bar. I don't see an online shop on their website, but you can always see if it's carried in a store near you.

Sweet Earth Chocolates is one brand I haven't tried yet, but hope to soon! They have an amazing variety, ranging from the expected bars and cups to things like bulk chocolate chips, melting chocolate (suitable for fondue and chocolate fountains!), peppermint bark, and crazy-good cocoa mix flavors like chai cocoa and peppermint cocoa. They even have a Haiti relief bar where $1.00 from the purchase of each bar goes to Partners In Health. I'm telling you - you will be amazed by this selection - check it out!

Speaking of chocolate chips... I know they are a staple in our house, and perhaps in yours as well? Our local natural foods stores carry Sunspire chocolate chips, so that's what I use, and I'm very happy with them. If you can't find them locally, you can buy them online, along with a wide variety of other chocolate confections. It looks like not all of Sunspire's products have fair trade certification (though the chocolate chips I buy do), but they seem to be making a good effort in this regard, which you can read more about here.

Sjaak's Organic Chocolates are actually made right here where I live in Northern California. I am fortunate to be able to shop at their charming little storefront in Old Town, Eureka, but when I recently discovered their website, I was amazed by the number of vegan and fair trade options that are available beyond what I've seen in the local stores.

Their entire line is not fair trade (so check the item titles/descriptions carefully when shopping their website), but all of the following options are fair trade, and I can recommend each enthusiastically!
Whew! That's a whole lot of chocolate! Enjoy exploring the many varieties of fair trade chocolate available to you, and if you find something you love, be sure to tell me about it!