Over the last decade, we’ve seen a significant increase in the Fair Trade movement. In Kenya, the topic comes up daily. “Are you Fair Trade certified?” “No.”
The developed world’s habit of mass consumption, starting back in 1920 with the Industrial Revolution, has resulted in an epidemic of inhumane working conditions, inferior products and damage to the earth.
Fair Trade addresses the inhumane working conditions by enforcing an international minimum wage. That’s certainly a step in the right direction, and needed, but not the long-term answer.
There are groups of people that are quick to jump on the bandwagon with altruistic social movements, like Fair Trade, to the point where the focus turns toward certifications and away from sustainability.
Now we have a dynamic where the general public believe that unless a product is Fair Trade certified, the assumption is that it is being produced in a sweat shop and destroying the earth.
However, we’ve met artisan after artisan that have suffered greatly from the Fair Trade regulations, to the point where they no longer sell Fair Trade products. The system is so clunky and full of bureaucracy that it bogs down production to the point where there are no longer any profit margins to be had. Isn’t that a bit dichotomous?
The bottom line is that artisans, no matter where they live, have got to create wonderful, quality, desirable products in order to have a sustainable and hopefully profitable business.
We need to get back to the basics and stop focusing so much energy on certifications that only serve as a Band-Aid, not a solution.
Let Fair Trade police the unethical production facilities and represent the bottom rung on the ladder. But understand that Fair Trade isn’t the answer. It’s one small facet of a long-term multifaceted solution.
When someone buys your product simply because of the story or cause behind it, we call that a “sympathy sell”. And that usually happens once. Then the buyer pats themselves on the back and moves on with the satisfaction that they’ve “done a good thing”. Game over.
If you want to build a solid business with longevity, create great products that people want, and do it with integrity. Sympathy sells once. Great products sell over and over. Build your business on that.