My little reflection on fair trade and human rights

I was recently interviewed by a Masters student from UK about the impact of the fair trade movement on economic and social rights advancement in the Cambodian context. This is because Oz Fair Trade has been supporting fair trade producers from Cambodia for over three years. My attention was particularly drawn to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which is part of the International Bill of Human Rights. I must admit that I don’t regularly read up on such things. Perhaps I have when I was setting up Oz Fair Trade, with all the passion bursting out of me. But once Oz Fair Trade was up and running, my focus shifted to the daily operational side of things. The interview, therefore, was a nice opportunity to step back and think about why I started on this path in the first place.

I guess my passion for fair trade has always been somewhat undeniably a product of ‘middle-class guilt’, and I merely wish that by promoting fair trade some poor families that don’t have basic ‘rights’ that we take for granted will be a little bit better off. I believe we should often reflect on the things that we take for granted, and be self-critical of the impact that our ‘innocent’ actions have on other people e.g. the lifestyle that we enjoy in the developed countries are often built upon more or less on exploiting people of the less developed countries, whether we like it or not.

Over the years, I have seen an increasing number of fair trade retailers and customers, and the positive impact their actions have had on the behaviours of the big companies. Ultimately, it’s the big guys who can make a difference. I am encouraged by the persistence of a number of fair trade businesses in Australia such as Etiko and Oxfam, and a growing number of online marketplaces dedicated to ethical shopping such as Good Spender. I was very excited when the Good On You app came out and it continues to be a strong force in promoting ethical shopping in Australia.

I would encourage you to read the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The rights listed there may seem basic and obvious to you and me, but they are denied to a large number of people. I believe we must be grateful for what we have, and try to help others who are less fortunate. I believe it brings happiness. This view is obviously shared by the customers who have supported Oz Fair Trade and many other fair trade organisations over the years. I feel that this view of happiness is particularly important in today’s world of rising protectionism and terrorism. What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

Qinnie
Director

Oz Fair Trade

A brick’s story

During my recent European trip, I painted a brick in Prague.

Oz Fair Trade Beneficial Brick

The Beneficial Brick Initiative is a charity fundraiser to protect mentally handicapped people from being excluded from society and to help them live with others in shared spaces.

I felt proud to have contributed to this great initiative. A brick costed about €7. Each brick is unique, and I spent quite a while looking through all the bricks.

What a wonderful idea to add some colours to the city of Prague while doing something good!

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Flower Bomb

Flower Bomb – this is the new name for our most popular recycled bombshell category. 

I recently came across this phrase in a magazine,  and it just seems to be the perfect description for Oz Fair Trade’s recycled bombshell products. Flower represents life, and these products represent the incredible resilience of Lao and Cambodian people who suffered decades of war and are still suffering from the landmines. Subconsciously, when I took photos of the recycled bombshell products for the website quite a while ago, I took them with flowers from my garden.

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Do you like the new name?

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My Selfish Reason To Help Nepal

I was in Nepal in 2013. The earthquake could have struck then. It could have killed me and my fellow travellers. I was lucky. But thousands are not two years later.

Sometimes people ask me why I spend so much time and effort on Oz Fair Trade, a charity that I founded that helps people who I’ll most likely never meet. My answer is usually “why not?”. I don’t deserve a better life. Since I am so much luckier than so many others, why not help them?

My preferred approach to poverty alleviation has always been fair trade not aid. But when disaster like this strikes, timely and efficient aid is absolutely necessary.

Currently, I support three fair trade suppliers in Nepal, and I haven’t heard from them since the earthquake. I hope they are ok. I know they will be ok even if they are not ok now, because people who live in extreme poverty are so resilient.

About two weeks ago, I teamed up with World Vision to raise fund for their Nepal Earthquake Appeal. World Vision came to my mind because I sponsored a Nepali girl for three years through them, until that particular program was successfully concluded. I know they are doing fantastic work in Nepal, along with many other aid organisations. I thought raising funds for Nepal through the sale of Nepali fair trade products would be a great way to not only help with the immediate aid but also promote Nepali fair trade products, so that in the long term, Nepal can rebuild sustainably.

The campaign ran for two weeks, and I was able to make a $500 donation to World Vision’s Nepal Earthquake Appeal from the generosity of Oz Fair Trade customers. So THANK YOU!!!

This weekend, I will attend a fund raising garden concert in Canberra hosted by a fellow rotarian to raise funds for Nepal. I am very proud to be a rotarian, and I think Australians are so generous towards those who need a helping hand.

You can check out our Nepal fair trade range here.

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Fair Trade For Men

I’ve written about whether women are more ethical than men. I’d like to believe that we are equally ethical. But when it comes to fair trade products, the choices for men often fall short. I’ve always wanted to sell more fair trade products that are suitable for men, such as the guitar shaped recycled bombshell bottle opener, which is one of our best selling products.

Recently, I added a small T-shirt range (males, females, kids) to test the market, and the response has been very positive. I went mostly with the producer’s designs this time. Potentially I would love to use more of my own designs. The material is very soft cotton, and I plan to push for the producer to use certified organic cotton down the track.

In addition, some of our winter pure alpaca scarves look equally good on men and women🙂

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20Feb

World Day of Social Justice: Why We Care

Whenever I’m asked about my passions, social justice and human rights come to my mind like how my dog eats food i.e. no time is required. Now seriously, they are not empty words or big words; they are what every human being must be entitled to. And yet, we all know that the reality is far from that.  So in 2007, the UN proclaimed 20 February as World Day of Social Justice.

What does “social justice” actually mean?

Google the definition of social justice and you will find the following words:

fairness, equality, balance, opportunities, distribution of wealth, peaceful, coexistence, human rights… 

My own definition of social justice is the minimum amount of fairness that everyone must experience so that the society can function peacefully. Without it, there will be conflicts; there will be wars; there will be extreme poverty; there will be extreme unhappiness and sufferings.

To those who have it, we know what it is when it is taken away from us.

To those who never had it, they will eventually start to ask questions and to seek change.

History always repeats itself. There’s nothing more frustrating than observing that.

Why should we (i.e. those who live in countries with relatively good social justice and human rights records) care? 

I ask, why shouldn’t we care? Why wouldn’t we care?

Why shouldn’t/wouldn’t we care about the Syrian refugees whose lives were brutally disrupted by war?

Why shouldn’t/wouldn’t we care about the girls who aren’t allowed to study?

Why shouldn’t/wouldn’t we care about the people who suffered inhuman tortures ?

Why shouldn’t/wouldn’t we care about another human being? And another? And another?

I still know too little about world issues. But I care, so I learn a little bit each day. So do many others. We simply need to outnumber those who don’t care, or convince them to care.

I believe we are born with a wonderful ability to love, and to care for others. 

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Not Valentine’s Again

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I’ve never been a hopeless romantic, and even if I were, the thought of Valentine’s would still trigger nothing more than cynicism in me. Just like diamond and expensive handbags, why should I give in to manipulative marketing?

This personal dislike of marketing often clashes with the reality of what I’m trying to do i.e. selling ethical products that are handmade by some of the world’s poorest people, so that they can have a reliable income and live with dignity. The way I see it is that I’m not trying to convince anyone that the product is worth more than it is (hence I’m not being manipulative); all I’m saying is that if you are going to buy something you might as well buy things that are made ethically.

Put the business aside, I’d like to share my little personal story about Valentine’s. When I was in school in China, I had a massive crush on a boy who was born on Valentine’s Day. He was the cleverest one, and he was who I wanted to be. We lost touch a long time ago, but every Valentine’s reminds me of this innocent little girl who did many crazy things for this little boy, and they never even held hands or exchanged a long conversation.

Many years later, this little girl has grown up, but she is still too honest, too trusting, too nice and too empathetic. She still sees the best in people and still believes in love no matter how much it has hurt her. She is seen as “successful”, “independent” and “happy”, but only she knows how difficult some days are. But she keeps smiling, and she believes that she will meet “the one” one day. She knows there’s more to life than romantic love, and she keeps her life busy with her involvements in her little charity Oz Fair Trade, her full time job, Rotary, Amnesty, professional studies, friends and families, readings and other things.

She gets strength from the thought of the people she’s helping, and she is thankful for all her past experiences which helped her to grow into a strong and mature woman. Maybe she will be alone this Valentine’s, but she won’t be lonely🙂

p.s. if you are still looking for a perfect Valentine’s gift, head over to Oz Fair Trade’s Valentine’s collection.

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Rosie’s photoshoot

Rosie is a four year old girl. She is happy, funny, sometimes silly and totally adorable. Rosie is the daughter of a dear friend of mine, and her mum and I had the best time today after almost two years of not seeing each other. As for Rosie, I’m not so sure. She did ask why I was taking ‘hundreds’ of photos of her, and complained that it was getting ‘boring’🙂 But in the end, she sang “Let It Go” for me😀

Don’t you agree that Rosie is a supermodel?

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Problem-solved

How has being an actuary helped me with running Oz Fair Trade?

I get asked this question a lot, and I didn’t really know the answer until a recent revelation. I was reading an article on Renegade Collective, my favourite magazine, about a ballerina turned business owner, when it occurred to me that I, too, have transferred skills gained from my professional training to the launch and running of Oz Fair Trade.

According to Strengths Finder 2.0, my current top strengths are:

  • Input
  • Restorative
  • Intellection
  • Relator
  • Activator

I was not born with these strengths. They are a direct result of my experiences to date. I might have always been inquisitive (i.e. Input), able to relate to others (i.e. Relator) and a thinker (i.e. Intellection), but Restorative and Activator? I would hardly see them as my strengths ten years ago.

I’d say that my actuarial training can definitely take credit for my problem solving skills (i.e. Restorative), and my passion for poverty alleviation and human rights pushed me to become an Activator (i.e. I cannot not act).

I suddenly realised that I founded Oz Fair Trade because I wanted to solve a problem that I witnessed i.e. extreme poverty, and this problem solving instinct was a direct result of my actuarial training.  

I suddenly realised that all my ideas steam from my desire to solve a particular problem, and my Activator instinct pushes me to make these ideas happen.

It’s a New Year’s Revelation.

In the past, I have always focused on improving my weaknesses, with little understanding of my strengths. I couldn’t see how being an actuary helped me with Oz Fair Trade or any of the other activities that fill my life right now. But now I see it. It’s not just that I can do numbers. It’s more that I have learned to think analytically, and learned the right process of problem solving. 

So yes, it is true that anything you learn can be useful, and any job can teach you valuable lessons.

Happy learning!