by Judy Fair Trade may seem like a large, difficult topic to explain to kids, but it really isn’t. We have done presentations for groups of children as young as grade one all the way to university aged young adults, to explain what Fair Trade is and how we can get involved in Canada. Each year we get invited to new school groups to talk about Fair Trade as global issues become more and more a part of the school curriculum.
Inequitable relationships, women’s rights, global poverty--they are large scary topics for some kids, so we always scale it down to the basics, especially for the little kids. Sometimes we will focus on a specific industry, like chocolate. We chose this example, mainly because most of the kids have eaten a chocolate bar, and it is something for them to relate to, regardless of their age. There is also a great YouTube channel from one of our chocolate companies that have videos that you can watch with your kids.
Other times we talk about some of the principles of Fair Trade and break them down. This is a great way to talk about Fair Trade with your kids, as you can focus on multiple principles if the kids are really engaged, or move on if they are having a hard time understanding it. Don’t try to tackle all of these things at once. Some are more suited to younger or older ages, so focus on the topics most suited to your kids. We always find at presentations and in the store, if kids aren’t engaged or are overwhelmed they won’t carry the message with them. Pick one or two you feel passionate about or they feel passionate about and it take from there.
Some of the principles of Fair Trade for talking to kids:
- Creating jobs for people who aren’t usually hired - Caring for the environment - Capacity building - Paying a fair price - Giving women & girls the same opportunities as men & boys - Building sustainable long-term relationships - Supporting good working conditions
Taking a closer look at each principle we can see how to introduce the topic to our kids.When talking about creating jobs for people who aren’t usually hired, it gives us a chance to talk about the realities in other countries. Many people with disabilities, whether they are physical, mental or emotional, often cannot go to school, and have a hard time getting a job. For example, one of the groups that our store deals with specifically works with artisans affected by Leprosy to help them create products, earn money, and find stable housing.
Most kids know how to care for the environment, including recycling and composting with municipal programs. Fair Traders think about the environment a lot when making products. This includes tree planting programs, using recycled materials, and using responsible farming methods. In some countries, plants that clog the rivers and cause the water ways to die, are picked and used for making unique handmade paper. We recently had a young customer who asked her mom to buy the handmade chopsticks, because she thought it was bad for the trees to use and throwaway the ones from the take out. She was showing her awareness at a level neither her mom nor I had thought of.
Explaining capacity building to kids is a little more complicated, as it is one of the harder concepts to explain. Providing artisans with capacity building can be any range of things. One of the most common ways this is done is to ensure that people are not only able to read, but are also financial literate. Many producer groups teach their artisans how to make budgets, do monthly accounting and develop saving schemes. Maybe you teach your children the value of saving their allowance, setting goals and learning to reach them. While they have the opportunity to learn from you, many of the artisans are the first in their families to have these skills.
It sounds pretty straightforward – paying a fair price. In Canada we have minimum wage, to ensure that everyone can earn a base rate. Many of the countries we get our products from don’t have any minimum wages. The wages paid in the Fair Trade system ensure that people don’t just earn an income, but they earn one with dignity and respect. The income is enough that artisans can pay for food, clothing, healthcare, housing and education for their children. Fair Trade organizations like Ten Thousand Villages pay their artisans 50% when the order is placed and 50% before the item ever leaves the country. This ensures that producers have the money to pay their bills and they aren’t affected if for any reason the product can’t be sold.
For so many girls and young women living in Canada the thought that they may not be treated the same as their male counterparts is as foreign as a country on the other side of the world. However, in many countries women and girls aren’t given the same opportunities. Many girls aren’t sent to school, and many women have little influence on their own futures. Fair Trade ensures that girls can go to school, and engages women in the local economies. It empowers women by given them an income, which is most often reinvested back into their families, homes and communities. Over 70% of the artisans producing items for Ten Thousand Villages are women. Shova Baroi is a great example of how earning an as a woman changed her family.
Building long term relationships that are sustainable is a key part of Fair Trade. It is the continued relationship that ensures steady income for the artisans. It helps the artisans to grow their businesses. Kids most likely understand the importance of long-term relationships as it applies to their friendships. Who is their oldest friend? Do they learn more about them as time goes on? It is the same with Fair Trade, both sides of the relationship work together to ensure the artisans can grow and learn. Ten Thousand Villages has been doing Fair Trade since 1946, and we have been working with some of our producer groups for decades.
Supporting good working conditions is vital for Fair Trade. It is vital that artisans work in safe and clean conditions with no child labour. These artisans are the reason we are talking about Fair Trade and that organizations like Ten Thousand Villages are around. Many of our artisans use natural materials, like plant based dyes, not only because they are more traditional and accessible, but better for them. Our chocolate producers ensure that no child labour is used in the production.
Many of these principles overlap with each other and there are themes to have discussions around. We often have kids ask us questions in the store and we can ask questions back. Could they imagine working and never going to school? Or not having a chance to play with their friends?
Ten Thousand Villages stores are staffed with volunteers who are here to tell the stories of our artisans and encourage more people to learn about Fair Trade. We are always happy to answer questions.
Judy Lincoln is an Ottawa mom of a two year old boy, the Manager at Ten Thousand Villages Ottawa and has been committed to Fair Trade for over a decade. There are over 100 volunteers in Ottawa who share this commitment at 1174 Bank Street and 371 Richmond Road. Follow Ten Thousand Villages on Twitter, Facebook or read their blog.