Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor (Zechariah 7:9).
Just behind the glass, an arrangement of evergreen trees, angels and nativity scenes signifies the arrival of the holiday shopping season. I pause for a moment to admire the mural on the side of the building. Then I step into the warmth of the familiar boutique. An array of nativity scenes to the right first gains my attention. Some are made of soapstone and others of wood, clamshells or wheat straw. Each one looks strikingly different from the others, and I am intrigued by each depiction.
The walls that hold these unique gifts are that of Crossroads Global Handcrafts. Located in Bloomington, Ill., Crossroads is committed to selling products made by artisans in need throughout the world. Fair trade retail stores such as this one are becoming increasingly popular, but still remain relatively unknown. They offer a refreshing alternative to Wal-Mart and brand name retail stores.
Fair trade organizations are a response to the oppression that characterizes most international trade. Melinda Snyder learned about fair trade from one of her professors four years ago. At first, she was skeptical. But after participating in an EarthWatch expedition that interviewed 100 women artisans in India, Snyder knew what she wanted her career to be about. The 24-year-old currently works in Evanston, Ill., as the sales and marketing manager at the headquarters of MarketPlace: Handwork of India, a fair trade organization. Her commitment to the fair trade mission has only grown.
“I actually now have the logo of MarketPlace tattooed on me,” she said. “I just really believe in what they’re doing. It’s always gonna stick with me.”
An abundance of reasons inspire Snyder’s commitment to fair trade.
“Not only does it give [the artisans] opportunities for their families to be lifted out of dire poverty,” she said, “but it also gives them the dignity of having a safe working environment and also an environment that is democratic.”
While most imported goods come from manipulative factories, fair trade cooperatives are owned by the artisans and allow every person a voice in decision making. This is especially significant for women in cultures where females typically are not included in decision-making processes. Fair trade groups also offer reasonable wages and support systems for the oppressed.
“One woman described it as a tree that she’s come and found shade under,” Snyder said.
More than likely, many of us intend to purchase cards, gifts, decorations or other holiday items this year. According to the National Retail Federation, the average consumer plans to spend nearly $700 this holiday season. Fair trade ensures that the money you spend will help to provide food, shelter and education for artisans and their families.
Almost all of the gifts that Snyder will be giving this holiday season are fair trade items.
“I just figure if I’m going to be spending money anyway for gifts, I might as well make what I spend duly effective, you know?” Snyder said.
Fair trade gifts not only serve a social purpose, but are also some of the most distinctive items around. The diversity of the artisans is apparent in their work. Lists of products are extensive also. Various organizations produce fair trade soaps, baskets, home décor, furniture, pottery, textiles, clothing, children’s toys, books, jewelry, musical instruments, coffee, chocolate and much more.
Donna Murray, 77, is a retired entrepreneur who volunteers at Crossroads. Murray said fair trade jewelry is a favorite gift among her family members, in addition to serving bowls from Vietnam, free trade candles, homemade soaps and sweaters.
“Buying here helps those that can’t make money any other way,” she said. “They’re just so poor and have no income. And it’s very nice merchandise and unique.”
Murray also mentions that items at Crossroads are reasonably priced for consumers. As explained on the Equal Exchange website, middlemen are cut out of the process because fair trade cooperatives work directly with farmers and artisans. This enables the cooperatives to give consumers a better value, while also paying workers more. So, to support fair trade, you don’t have to spend more. You just have to make sure the products you purchase are from fair trade cooperatives.
If there are no retail stores nearby, shopping online is an alternative. Extensive lists of wholesale organizations, online catalogs and mail order catalogs are available on the Fair Trade Federation website. You might also visit fairtraderesource.org and www.ifat.org.
After browsing through the shelves of fair trade vases, chess boards and tablecloths, I watch for a few minutes as my husband plays some hand drums and other percussion instruments. We pay for our French vanilla coffee and chai tea before an icy gust meets us at the door. I pause again to admire the mural before proceeding down the sidewalk under the hanging sign that reads: “Crossroads Global Handcrafts: Gifts that Give Twice.”