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.

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

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.

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. 

Not Valentine’s Again


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.

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!

New Year’s Resolutions

Time seems to go faster as I age. I feel the urgency, and I want to make most of every day.

Here are my resolutions for 2015:

  • Lose weight and get fit (I’ve picked up table tennis, tennis, tai chi and golf, so this should be achievable)
  • Keep growing Oz Fair Trade and supporting more producers
  • Provide excellent customer service as usual
  • Recruit volunteers to help me run Oz Fair Trade
  • Assist local and wider communities through Rotary
  • Fight for human rights issues through Amnesty
  • Lead ACT Fair Trade Collective to push forward fair trade movement in Canberra
  • Meet more like-minded individuals through Canberra Sustainable and Fair Living Meetup (you are invited!)
  • Do well at my day job (which seems more like a side-project now given how much other stuff I have on…)

Cheers to a busy and fulfilling year ahead!


Here’s to you!

It’s been almost two years since I decided to set up an online fair trade shop to better lives of the people I met during my trip to Southeast Asia and many like them. It’s time to reflect and be grateful.

I am grateful for the trip that I took in late 2012 which inspired me to start something meaningful. I am grateful that my ex-partner took me on this trip. Without him, I might have chosen to visit the developed countries in Europe, just like most other Chinese people would do. We have our differences and our relationship didn’t work out, but I will never regret meeting him and loving him.

I am grateful for the technological advances that allowed anyone to build an e-commerce without knowing anything about coding.

I am grateful for the emotional support I received from my friends, my colleagues, my ex-partner and his family.

I am grateful to Canberra CityNews and The Chronicle for featuring my story early on despite a terrible looking website.

I am grateful to my early customers who supported this little start-up despite a terrible website and pretty bad product images.

I am grateful for meeting socially conscious bloggers and journalists who have featured me in their blogs/articles.

I am grateful to Google for publishing its Search Engine Optimisation Guideline, which enabled me to do my own SEO and reach new customers.

I am grateful to friends who have helped me to customise/fix the website from time to time.

I am grateful for advices from experienced social entrepreneurs like Nick Salvadis from Etiko.

I am grateful to Intrepid for organising fantastic life changing trips and for featuring me in their blog.

I am grateful for the assistance I received from the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand.

I am grateful for having role models who have built successful social enterprises.

I am grateful for the domestic help I get daily from my father, which frees up my time to work on Oz Fair Trade.

I am grateful for being selected as one of the sellers on Good Spender, a new online marketplace for ethical products.

I am grateful to all my customers who have supported Oz Fair Trade. Without you, there will be no Oz Fair Trade.

I am grateful to anyone who has helped to spread the word.