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FAIR TRADE:
WHAT DOES IT REALLY MEAN?

I remember the first night I saw the words "Fair Trade," they were written in white on Chris Martin's black piano as he played on stage. He's the lead singer of the dynamic rock band Coldplay. PBS was airing a special that night on the band's music. "Fair Trade," printed in white, stood out against the black of the piano and a shiver went down my spine. What did they mean? Why was I so intrigued by these simple words?

The thought lingered with me the next day as I went to get my morning cup of coffee. The line was unusually long that morning. It turned out they were short handed at the front counter. My first instinct was to grab the paper, browse through it, and patiently wait in line. To my dismay there were no papers left. So I picked up one of their prepackaged coffees and started reading the label instead. To my surprise, there they were again, the words "Fair Trade."

First Chris Martin and now the coffee shop. What was this? Some kind of new revolution I knew nothing about? The coffee label read, "Fair Trade and Human Rights: The Perfect Combination." My mind went back to Chris Martin and his piano. I could feel a surge of energy from the connection. There was a web address listed for more information. I quickly wrote it down, promising myself to look it up as soon as I got home. Funny as it may seem, that day ended up being a turning point in my life.

It's "fair" to say that after researching the topic and realizing how important fair trade was I quickly became an advocate. I learned that when a consumer supports fair trade it means farmers and artisans are able to build a better future for themselves, their families and communities. By supporting fair trade, people make choices in line with their principles that promote fair wages, the rights of women and children, environmental protection and the rights of indigenous populations.

It's a chance for consumers to be socially and globally responsible in a very simple way. Fair trade gives people the opportunity to be socially conscious on a deeper level, becoming aware of the fact that everyone is interconnected in this world. That everyone one of us depends on someone else to create balance in our lives.I decided that this was my chance to get involved on a more personal level. I had recognized something so powerful in those words "Fair Trade", that I felt compelled to dig a little deeper. I began volunteering for a non-profit organization called MarketPlace: Handwork of India.

MarketPlace is well recognized in the fair trade movement; they were actually one of the founding members of the Fair Trade Federation. MarketPlace is changing lives on a day-to-day basis. Their goal is to increase economic opportunities for women artisans in India, which helps to bring change and growth within their communities by promoting leadership and equality.

These women use their talents in a creatively charged atmosphere. Everything that is produced is handcrafted and carefully designed to make each item unique. MarketPlace: Handwork of India is marketed through the U.S. in a bi-annual catalog, through their website, www.marketplaceindia.com, and in select boutiques. The catalog offers an exceptional variety of apparel, jewelry, handbags, and home interiors. All of the items are labeled with the words "Dignity not Charity," allowing customers to see the significance of a product that respects the rights of its producer.

MarketPlace: Handwork of India provides an alternative to the inequities of conventional trade between developed and developing countries. MarketPlace's work over the past 20 years demonstrates how we are all interconnected by the work that we do. In fair trade organizations such as this, consumer and producer share an intimate connection that is based on appreciation and respect. MarketPlace has created a sustainable workforce where superior craftsmanship and increased self-worth are valued more highly than profit margins. They have given hope to hundreds of women who are disadvantaged because of issues such as gender, social standing, and poverty.

MarketPlace has given hope to those who need it the most. They have also given a sense of entrepreneurship to these women that will continue to enhance their lives as well as the lives of the members of their families and communities. On a personal level, this company has given me the ability to see the world in a new light. The choices we make on a daily basis have the ability to make a drastic difference in the world we live in. By making conscious decisions on the products we purchase, we are able to lead a more meaningful life.For me, joining MarketPlace and the fair trade movement was about connecting my ideals to my actions. I could see how my everyday decisions could have a more fulfilling impact on my own life and the life's of others. I get a great deal of fulfillment from knowing that my purchasing decisions help to provide a sustainable way of living for those involved. Like Chris Martin and his piano or that package of coffee, I am now a part of a movement that has a foundation in mutual appreciation and helps to create global community that is conducive to the well-being of all.

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