Many are still unaware of this, as well as what it means to individual citizens, the region, and the world. Fair trade promotes methods of commerce that eliminate slave labor and unfair working conditions to provide a fair living for the people behind the products we buy.
London Coe, owner of fair trade store Peace on Fifth (508 E. Fifth St., Dayton) has made this her passion.
“Chocolate is the easiest example to explain why fair trade exists,” she said. “There are six companies that control 56% of all the chocolate production in the world. Hershey’s is the smallest of those with 6%, Mars is the largest with 14.6%. Chocolate is actually very expensive. It’s a huge international industry, traded on floors in New York and London, and is one of the world’s most demanded commodities along with things like corn, soybeans, orange juice concentrate, and cotton.
“It trades for so much money, but we all want to feel we’re part of this special class of people who get to enjoy this luxury item. So the chocolate companies sell it to us – but they have to strike a balance, they need us to feel we’re getting enough of what we want, but they need to make a profit. So you end up with people like Herhsey’s, who include just enough chocolate to flavor what they’re making.”
This allows one pound of chocolate to make exponential amounts of candy bars that can then be sold for cheap. Even more money is saved because the chocolate is harvested using slave labor.
“Chocolate is harvested,” said Coe, “by children who are kidnapped as early as age seven. They have no access to school or play or safety precautions and spend all day harvesting cacao pods with machetes and being sprayed with pesticides. Remember when you were in seventh grade and your arms and legs got longer, and your hands and feet got bigger, and it made you awkward? And you ran into things and hit yourself with things? That happens to these children, except they’re holding machetes.
“When I learned this,” she said, “I realized I was eating the result of this inhumanity. I no longer wanted my hands or my money on a company that felt this was the way to treat children. Chocolate was what led me down the path to opening a store. I have this desperate idea that says you don’t sacrifice your community for yourself; contributing to community, be it local or global, is how you pay your rent on this earth. So Peace on Fifth is my thumbs up to Dayton, to a place that supports a value system that says no matter where you come from, you can be a part of something you believe in.”
Peace on Fifth, which celebrates its second anniversary on November 25, sells only fair trade items, including chocolate which can be traced all the way back to the farms where the cacao originated.
For each dollar spent on a fair trade product, roughly 50 cents goes back to the producer (farmer, artisan, etc.). If the producer has an official fair trade label through a certification board, a percentage goes there. Money goes toward stabilizing the producer’s community, often in a third world country, and promotes education in these remote areas, which people within the communities then use to fight against human trafficking to eradicate slave labor.
“By supporting fair trade,” Coe said, “you’re working against slave labor. And you’re also supporting animals and the environment. If you are overharvesting animals in a space that’s too small, that’s harmful to the environment. Fair trade products that come in some way from animals are produced in ways that ensure quality treatment for the animals involved.”
An exemplary leader on this principle is popular ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, which earlier this year became the first fair trade company in the U.S., using cocoa, vanilla, sugar, coffee, and bananas (for the Chunky Monkey fans) from certified farms. The dessert purveyor even hosted a fair trade music festival in Boston this August.
Just a few weeks before that festival, Dayton threw its hat into the fair trade ring officially. On July 31, the City of Dayton declared itself a Fair Trade City, an informal resolution meaning the city will look closely in future purchasing decisions to ensure support for safe practices and sustainable and eco-friendly means of production.
On August 9, international organization Fair Trade Towns USA certified Dayton a Fair Trade Town, joining Dayton with cities across the globe that stand together to fight for a world with better work environments, better wages, and a cleaner environment.
“Mayor [Gary] Leitzell was supportive even before I started this,” she said. “He said, ‘I think you should run with this. It’s good for the city.’ The resolution I sent and the resolution that got passed were very different in that the resolution that got passed is actually much more aggressive. The city wants to be supportive of this concept.”
Mayor Leitzell commented, “It normally takes two to three years to get an initiative like this passed, but it happened in ten weeks. I gave London a few tips, she connected the dots and got the doors opened, and the next thing I knew, it was happening. Something like this doesn’t have to be political, it’s something that should just be. It says that we not only respect our community, but yours, wherever that happens to be, and it ties in with our whole ‘immigrant friendly’ message and being fair to all people. Hopefully Dayton will become recognized globally as a place where everyone’s got a fair shake.”