The Conscious Consumer

With the help of Coldplay’s Chris Martin and other celebrities, Fair Trade has become one of the hottest buzzwords on college campuses and in faith-based organizations. Yet many don’t understand how the Fair Trade movement actually works. A deeper understanding is worth pursuing, especially for Christians. The Word makes it clear that our God cares deeply about justice for the poor and the oppressed. Since our God cares, we should, too.

The Fair Trade Resource Network recently released the fourth edition of The Conscious Consumer: Promoting Economic Justice Through Fair Trade. For those looking to learn more about Fair Trade, this is an excellent place to turn. Author Rose Benz Ericson introduces readers to basic Fair Trade concepts, while also highlighting the deeper issues of the movement.

The 36-page publication is the most trusted source for comprehensive information on Fair Trade. Since its first edition in 1999, The Conscious Consumer has sold more than 60,000 copies. The most recent edition alone received pre-orders for nearly 20,000 copies. Readers can look forward to gaining a better understanding of how Fair Trade works and why it is necessary, how the movement has grown in the last five years, what Fair Traders are currently doing throughout the world and what challenges the movement faces.

There are a ton of valuable facts and stories packed within this short publication. Ericson begins by noting the problems with traditional trade and explaining how Fair Trade differs as a viable alternative. She then explores the principles to which Fair Traders are committed, the benefits to consumers as well as producers, Fair Trade’s history, the pronounced benefits of Fair Trade for impoverished women and much more. Those who are unfamiliar with Fair Trade become more conscious of world trade issues, while readers who are already knowledgeable receive an update on the movement’s progress.

Recent years have seen leaps in awareness and acceptance of Fair Trade. In North America alone, money spent on fairly traded goods nearly tripled between 2001 and 2004. Americans have especially embraced Fair Trade coffee and food products. This growth can be partially accounted for by advancements in certification. Ericson explains that with recent accessibility of an identifiable Fair Trade certification seal, products are no longer confined to Fair Trade retail and wholesale stores. They are available in mainstream retail outlets such as grocery chains and Sam’s Clubs. Awareness has also been raised through the help of faith-based groups, motivated students, educators and the use of the Internet.

With advancements, there also come trials. The final portion of The Conscious Consumer is dedicated to the challenges Fair Trade is currently facing. “By touching on some of the difficult questions, I hope The Conscious Consumer will illuminate and help shape the larger conversation about the future of Fair Trade,” Ericson said.

Among these difficult questions are how to motivate consumers and overcome resistances, how to determine a fair wage for artisans as well as acceptable certification procedures for products, how to reconcile debates about where Fair Trade products should be sold and how to resolve unintended political and economic results in developing countries as well as organizational staffing and funding limitations.

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Ericson’s writing reflects well-informed and insightful coverage of appropriate issues. The Conscious Consumer accurately sheds light on what is working and what challenges remain. Undoubtedly, readers will walk away with a broader, more comprehensive perspective.

Perhaps the only shortcoming is that Ericson does not propose a specific, practical challenge for readers. The back cover encourages individuals to “Take the 5 Percent Fair Trade Challenge,” but this challenge is not mentioned within the pages of the publication. Although Ericson certainly proposes holistic challenges for the Fair Trade movement, none of these speak directly to individual readers.

Still, The Conscious Consumer is an ideal resource for those interested in learning more. It is also inexpensive and a quick read. Copies can be purchased at the Fair Trade Resource Network website (www.fairtraderesource.org) for less than $7 ($3.95 for the publication, plus $3 for shipping). Not only will readers walk away better informed, but the money spent will be funneled back to support one of the movement’s cornerstones: Fair Trade education.

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