In the United States and other developed nations, we have the means and the freedoms to start our own businesses, put our skills to work and to expect that our ventures will reasonably succeed. In many other parts of the world, this opportunity is not available. Either locals don’t have access to the materials and finances to produce a product, or they are treated poorly while doing so. The fair trade movement has gained momentum by helping those in impoverished, suffering areas to produce, market and sell their goods and services. Trade as One is an online retailer that has adopted this ethical business model, attempting to make a change while making a profit.
“I often talk about there being two crises: one is the crisis brought about by extreme poverty, and the other crisis is brought about by the absence of meaning,” says Nathan George, founder of Trade as One. “Fair trade can work in both of those worlds to restore meaning to our vacuous consumption, and to also create jobs for the most marginalized people in the world.”
About six years ago, George fused his experiences as a missionary’s kid and a successful business developer into the vision that now guides Trade as One. “I was completely captivated by this notion that I don’t have to go cutting down the jungle and preaching to people to do missions.” His other business position involved forging partnerships between companies, so he took this practical knowledge and contacted worthy organizations on every major continent to develop the symbiotic relationships that now propel Trade as One. Producers come from three underprivileged groups: women rescued from sex trafficking or abuse, those suffering from HIV/AIDS and people living on less than $1 a day.
“The absence of work, particularly among the poorest of the poor, is a missions issue,” George says. Through Trade as One, he hopes to provide a chance for the hardworking poor to create a new lifestyle for themselves. “It’s not charity. We have a business relationship with these organizations.” George explains that each producer must have a fair trade certification, produce high quality products and provide evidence of having exported for the last couple of years. Roughly half of each dollar goes back to supporting their partners around the world, a typical retail margin.
So it’s obvious that Trade as One is holding up its end of the bargain for those in developing countries. But what about the rest of us—why is it important that we become conscientious consumers? “It means that we think about the money that we use in ways that are constructive,” George says. “Rather than rational self interest being the basis upon which your micro-economical decisions were made, start to say, ‘What if the golden rule was the basis for our microeconomic decisions?’”
George encourages those who are passionate about the work of Trade as One and fair trade to not only purchase their products but start discussions about the need for such companies. “Everything we’ve done is word of mouth. I really want people to engage with us on the social media side and get the word out there,” he says. He also believes the Church should engage fair trade more, as it is an expression of the values foundational to our faith. “It will be a long journey, but what encourages me more than anything is the power that consumers have to effect change.”
To learn more, visit TradeasOne.com.