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Fair Trade is Culture
27 February 2013

Supporters of the WFTO and the Fair Trade movement are advocating a wide variety of causes ranging from providing producers with fair payment for their products to ensuring that children will not be found working in production facilities. However, there is something else that is equally supported through Fair Trade, but is not the first cause that is normally considered by many when purchasing that Fair Trade scarf or craft. Culture is a vital part of the Fair Trade movement. By supporting artisans throughout the world, Fair Trade consumers are also supporting the many distinct cultures that represent and create the movement.

                                               Culture is people and their ways of life.
                                                                                                        Photo: Swazi Candle Pty

    More articles on this topic: 
   Africa: Illuminating the Swazi Heritage 
   Asia: Creating Opportunity with Tradition 
   Europe: Blending Two Worlds 
   Latin America: 2,000-Year-Old Tradition
   Ensuring Fair Trade
   North America & Pacific: Sowing Seeds
   of Hope in the Indigenous Communities
Latin America
By stepping into any Fair Trade shop an individual can immediately sense the new, unique cultures preserved within the products around him or her. Whether it is the pottery of southern Asia or loom weaved fabrics from Latin America, the World Fair Trade Organization is truly represented by the world. While creating products to sustain themselves and their families, many producers reveal their own culture and heritage within the products. With each Fair Trade purchase the knowledge of another culture is increased.

Several of the WFTO’s members originated with the primary goal of reviving and maintaining cultures and traditions that were centuries old. Founders of such organizations were individuals who witnessed dying cultural identities and traditions due to issues ranging from war to influences from the modern market. The combined refusal of these advocates and local artisans to allow the practices of the native culture to fade away resulted in numerous Fair Trade organizations. By seeking the continuation of their culture, indigenous people throughout the world were able to also achieve fair wages and safe workplaces.

For other organizations, the location of the business meant everything to a culture. Some businesses that are now Fair Trade organizations were first started in just the right spot. Some businesses that began as a means for a few individuals to make a living have blossomed into Fair Trade organizations that expose the local culture to the world. As an organization hires more and more local artisans their influence will undoubtedly influence the products. Soon their cultural identity becomes the frame work for the products, and the indigenous producers will become known to everyone who purchases their products.

             The ancient tradition of backstrap loom weaving by Mayan people in Guatemala.
                                                                                                     Photo: Cojolya

In this era of globalization, the valuing of different cultures has only become more important. Many Western Fair Trade importers in North America and Europe have played their role in supporting other cultures. Northern importers not only assist other cultures by purchasing and importing products that give producers in the South sustainable livelihood, but they also create and team up with aid projects within those areas. Importers play a vital part in the support of maintaining other cultures, along with bringing those other cultures to the people of their own cultures.

Understanding and appreciating other cultures is more crucial than ever in today’s world. As media, transportation, and communication all continue to advance and make our world smaller, the necessity to become more accepting and welcoming to other cultures must advance along with them. If there is hope for further advances tomorrow, acceptance must be the driving force today. Fair Trade is a key player in this effort. With organizations that are consisting of indigenous producers and organizations that are importing their products to the far away stores, both types of Fair Traders are supporting and maintaining the vast cultures around the world. These efforts allow us to visit our local Fair Trade shop and touch a culture that is worlds away. Andrew Bockhorst, intern

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