5 Reasons Why I think Protectionism Will Hurt Fair Trade

1. Trade protectionism will reduce overall trade between countries, and the poorest countries often rely heavily on export.

2. Trade protectionism will force some businesses to find ways to reduce cost, hence putting downward pressure on wages especially in countries where labour law is non-existent or non-enforced.

3. Trade protectionism will encourage consumers to think only of fair treatment of their fellow countrymen instead of fair treatment of all workers.

4. Trade protectionism will encourage businesses to withdraw from overseas production, some of which have taken significant positive steps towards fair trade practices in recent years.

5. Trade protectionism will make importing of fair trade products more expensive, hence halting the growth of the fair trade movement and hurting the small businesses that try to make a positive impact through fair trade.

What’s harder than running a half marathon?

I recently ran my first half marathon for Lifeline. I completed it in 2 hours and 17 minutes. You know what’s harder than running a half marathon? Stop snacking, and watching Trump win.

Honestly though, I think we all saw it coming, but we didn’t want to believe it. If I am a cynic, I would say that compassion is dead. Brexit, Trump, what’s next? 2017 German election may well fall into the hands of far-right Alternative for Germany. Meanwhile, back at home, MPs are debating whether asylum seekers who arrive by boat should be banned from ever applying for Australian visas. Is compassion dead?

I don’t believe so.

I don’t believe compassion is dead, because I see it every day in every customer of Oz Fair Trade, in every random act of kindness, in every charity event, and in every person that I have met.

Rather than blaming the people who voted for Brexit or for Trump, or getting all gloomy and doomy, how about we try to understand them? If they had job security and decent minimum wages, would they have rejected immigration?

“Beneath the shouting, there’s suffering. Beneath the anger, fear. Beneath the threats, broken hearts. Start there and we might get somewhere.” – Parker Palmer

If Democrats had a more inspiring presidential candidate, would the outcome have been different? If Washington had not been ruled by bankers and elites, would ordinary working Americans have be less change-hungry? If the US electoral system had been different, would a third party have won?

Some may call Trump win a “disaster”. I think what’s really worrying is not what one man can do but what division can do to humanity.

“Better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness” – Chinese proverb

We can all keep alight the candle of compassion.

Fair trade vs Fair trading

I receive numerous phone calls each week from people who want to complain about unfair trading practices that affected them personally. I often scratch my head and tell him they got the wrong number and that they should google “fair trading” instead of “fair trade”.

The misunderstanding is a little bit annoying, and highlights the problem that only a small percentage of Australians know about fair trade. While laws are not perfect in Australia and may occasionally be breached, unfair trading practices are the norm in many developing countries. We are indeed privileged.

Read more on fair trade here.

oz fair trade recycled bombshell

Laos revisited

Laos, a small and poor nation in Southeast Asia, has recently become the center of attention as the 2016 East Asia Summit unfolds. Many world leaders, including Barack Obama and Malcolm Turnbull, have gathered there to discuss important topics. What interested me most, was what Obama would do as the first sitting president to visit a country that US bombed relentlessly during the Vietnam War. Would he acknowledge the pain and suffering that Lao people endured as a result? Would he apologize? I held my breath.

To my disappointment, Obama fell short of an apology. What he did offer though, is $90 million for a national survey of unexploded ordnance and efforts to clear the affected areas. Is that enough? I highly doubt it. About one third of the 2.2 million bombs dropped on Laos remain undetonated and threaten the lives of Lao people every day. Obama acknowledged that too few people knew about the bombings of Laos, and that America has a “moral obligation to help Laos heal”. I can only hope that this promise will be kept by the next US president and the ones after that. To many people, the cleanup effort is too little too late.

In Xieng Khouang, the most affected province, bombs are found in forests and school buildings, roads and rice fields. Kids often mistake them for toys. One survivor says, “Until every bomb is removed from the ground our children will be at risk. I want to know whether those Americans who pierced our land with bombs, are they sorry?”

Until then, let us not forget.

Check out our range of fair trade recycled bombshell products made from safely sourced materials: Every purchase helps them to clear the affected lands.

Spread a message of peace. Wear something truly extraordinary.


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.


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!

oz fair trade recycled bombshell

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?


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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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.