I am very aware of the positive impact that we can make through our purchasing decisions. As the owner of a small fair trade business, I see that buying fair trade is an empowering and responsible decision. As a resident of Alaska, I am equally aware of how important it is to buy local. I am often confronted by the seeming contradiction between buying fair trade and buying local. We all want to do good, but sometimes sorting out how to do good is a difficult job. In this case, my decision is to support both.

Sorting Quality Naturals
Credit: CCBY 2.0 by jakeliefer

Buying Fair Trade

Fair trade is, simply put, a social and economic movement which promotes and encourages paying people in developing countries a fair wage for the work that they are doing. In practice, it cuts out many of the middlemen traditionally found in the supply chain to better compensate the artisans and producers. To be certified, producers and artisan groups must meet a set of criteria in their business practices that includes paying a fair wage, ensuring a good work environment, not using child labor, and respecting the environment. Though some question whether or not the fair trade model is living up to its ideals, I believe that at the very least it is helping to create conscious consumers and is a motion in the right direction. At its best, it is empowering millions of people around the world and helping them to feel connected, informed, and inspired by the world around us.

Buying Local

Buying local is a growing movement within the United States in which people buy goods that are grown or produced as close to their homes as possible. Buying locally has many benefits. It cuts down on the financial and environmental costs of shipping things across the world. Supporting local businesses helps to boost the local economy. Local businesses add to the unique and vibrant nature of cities and towns. There are also some naysayers to the buying local movement who argue that the cost of producing goods locally, on a smaller scale, cancels out the potential benefits that are touted as good reasons to buy local.

Doing Both

In my business I interact with many supporters of the fair trade movement.  I also occasionally engage with potential customers who are interested in my products, but balk when they realize they were made outside of the country. When I began in the business, I was unsure of how to respond to this reaction. At first thought, buying something imported did seem to directly contradict a conscious decision to buy local. But as I've given the conundrum more thought, I've realized there is not as much contradiction as one might initially think.
Fair trade products are often goods that are not produced locally. The majority of the coffee and chocolate consumed by Americans is produced in developing countries. We can safely purchase the fair trade versions of these products without needing to choose between fair trade and buying locally. Fair trade arts and crafts are often produced by artisans whose work reflects their cultural heritage and traditions. This too is not something that can be produced locally, as each location has its own set of unique cultural skills and traditions that are expressed through the creation of the artwork and other handicrafts.
For me, the best decision is to support both movements. I buy veggies and goods manufactured locally when possible. And I also buy fair trade items that are not available locally. To me, participating in both movements is the best way to most effectively support ourselves, our local community, and the global community.