Do you live in a Fair Trade Town?

30 June 2016   |   Ariel Bramble, Commercial Relations Manager, Fairtrade America

Near my house there’s an old market that was recently renovated into a global food market. It has a cool patio that’s home to a farmer’s market and a drive-in movie theater in the summer. There’s something for everyone at this place, so I love taking guests to explore and taste what the world has to offer.


Visitors are encouraged to follow their hearts and cravings. You can choose to sip on locally-crafted kombucha tea at one stall, devour Korean tacos at another, follow your nose to locally-grown tomatoes, or buy homemade grape nuts ice cream across the aisle. All ages and all types of foodies are welcome.

I was thinking of this as it relates to the Fair Trade Towns movement. The variety of food stalls, each with unique identities and different skills, all working toward a common goal — the success of our community (or in this example, the success of the global food market). It’s like Fair Trade Towns, which was established to empower community members to join with others in their town to increase the positive effects of fair trade around the world.

Building an Ethical Movement

While working at Ten Thousand Villages, one of the world’s largest fair trade organizations and retailers, I learned that consumers were largely disconnected (a.k.a. clueless) on the journey that goods made before ending up in their shopping basket. Once people understood the back story, they were enlightened, even if only during that visit to the store.

This experience of educating others on sustainable sourcing, sparked a fire in me. I wanted to find a way to amplify my voice beyond the store walls out into the streets, into classrooms, and into retailers to educate consumers and create change within my community and the world. I spread word around the city for others to join me and the advocates that took me up on the offer helped establish a Fair Trade Town in Alexandria, Virginia.

The Fair Trade Town steering committee for Alexandria came from different walks of life, some as social justice advocates from their church, local business managers, government professionals and students with interests in law and the environment. Together, we were able to tell the story (to anyone who would listen!) of fair trade farmers and workers, who like all of us, are due fair wages and the opportunity to work under safe and ethical conditions.

With the assistance of city council of Alexandria, we passed a resolution, expressing the city government’s willingness and desire to source sustainably and fairly and use their influence as an example to others. Alexandria is now the first and only city in the DC metropolitan area designated as a Fair Trade Town.

A Big City, Big on Fairness

Nearly 600 miles away, Chicago Fair Trade is a larger and more established Fair Trade Town movement that has made strides in influencing their community and using their voice to build the ethical and fair trade movement. Formed in 2006, the network of activists and volunteers worked to achieve Fair Trade Town recognition in 2011, and Sweatshop-Free City status in 2014, that went into effect in January 2015. Cook County (where Chicago is located) then went on to pass a separate county-wide anti-sweatshop ordinance in the Spring of 2015, making it the largest Sweatfree municipality in the US in 2015.

I recently met with Chicago Fair Trade Executive Director, Katherine Bissell Cordova who recounted their recent World Fair Trade Day celebration, a two-day festival in Chicago’s Daley Plaza with over two dozen locally-owned ethical businesses.

Anyone can be involved in their campaign with memberships for individuals, businesses, and institutional members (non-profits, schools, congregations). And with Chicago’s population over 2.7 million people, there are plenty of opportunities for growth. Together as a movement they cheer on those retailers already making ethical sourcing commitments and work to drum up support for expansion into new markets.

“The great thing about fair trade is that it is so positive and has such a broad appeal. You can do so many different types of events. We’ve organized fair trade banana split socials, fashion shows with students and involved local fair trade shops and film screenings (like Beyond the Seal and The True Cost),” Katherine said.

One might ask, how can membership in a grassroots movement matter in such a large city? Andrea Dennis, a Chicago Fair Trade blogger addressed this in her post, “Does Membership REALLY Matter?”

“The people I meet through Chicago Fair Trade indirectly nudge me to consider my worldview and every day actions. That is the power of fair trade and the Chicago Fair Trade community! People love what they are doing, and that passion is contagious,” Dennis wrote.

That passion is inspiring global movements, but like farmers’ markets and other community-building efforts, fair trade towns don’t just come out of thin air. It takes dedicated individuals from different backgrounds uniting for positive change. These grassroots efforts are being setup by dedicated volunteers and activists from Lawrence, Kansas, down to Perez Zeledon, Costa Rica, and across the pond to Poznan, Poland.

All of us as part of a larger community can encourage fairer and sustainable sourcing. Every single one of us has the power to start a movement or to join with like-minded friends to advocate for a more ethical world.

So, how about your town?

Visit Fair Trade Campaigns to see if there is a fair trade campaign near you. Here’s a list of Fairtrade companies that have made a commitment to sourcing ethically. They have made the decision to use their business to stand with farmers and workers around the world. Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, business owner or a concerned individual, activist or couch surfer, there’s room for your voice in speaking up for what is right.

The International Fair Trade Towns Conference is being held in Baskinta, Lebanon, July 2-3, 2016. The theme of the conference will be ‘Building Bridges through Fair Trade’ using the example of fair trade efforts in Lebanon to inspire and motivate people across the Fair Trade Towns movement.

Attendees will learn how Fair Trade Towns in Lebanon have created social and economic links across sects and faiths to create a platform for solidarity and mutual support. Lebanon has 18 different sects and faith traditions, and with more than a quarter of its population made up of refugees fleeing from surrounding countries, building bridges among communities is a much needed side effect of the Fair Trade Town campaigns. Follow the hashtag #FairtradeTowns on Twitter during the run of the conference!


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