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.

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!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Oz Fair Trade is the newest Fair Trader of Australia

As some of you already know, Oz Fair Trade has been certified as the newest Fair Trader of Australia by the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand.

It is a big milestone for me and for Oz Fair Trade. I wanted this certification much earlier, but I couldn’t, because a business needs to be in operation for at least 12 months before it can be assessed. Oz Fair Trade was incorporated in October 2013, so I had to wait. Now the wait is over, and I’m very happy for the recognition.

To any ethical business in Australia, becoming a Fair Trader of Australia is a big deal. It is the official certification in Australia that recognises businesses that have fair trade at the heart of what they do. It gives customers confidence that they are buying from an ethical business that adhere to fair trade principles.

Thank you to all who supported Oz Fair trade!

Get away from it all

Oz Fair Trade was closed for almost two months, during which time I read more than ten books, thought seriously about my life, and traveled to new places. No matter how busy life gets, it’s great to get away from it all once in a while.

This time, I went to Norway, Amsterdam, London, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Singapore and Phuket. Even spent 8 hours (12am to 8am) at Qatar airport.

Before I went, I had the idea that I must visit Oxfam in London and must check out the fair trade scene in Europe. I have been told that Europeans are more aware of fair trade than Australians. I thought I must check it out with my own eyes.

So off I went. Norway was beautiful and very expensive. Oslo was just like any other developed cities. Fast fashion was the norm. Next stop Amsterdam, where I stumbled upon the first TOMS shop I’ve never been to! I thought…really? Really? TOMS in Amsterdam??? It was 9pm and there were a bunch of people walking out the door. I wanted to walk in, but they said it’s closed. Bugger. I eagerly returned the next morning, like Alice in Wonderland, marvelling at everything in store. The shop manager told me with a big smile that this store only just opened a few weeks ago, and that TOMS has a plan to rapidly open stores around Europe. I was excited! Maybe Australia will be the next?

TOMS Amsterdam

TOMS Amsterdam

I loved the store layout. It created a warm and welcoming atmosphere, and explained well the unique story behind TOMS. If I ever open a shop, this is exactly the feeling that I want my customers to get when they step foot (or even before they step foot) into the store. I ended up buying a pair of TOMS shoes (of course!) and sunnies. Yay!

TOMS

TOMS

Next stop London. The British Museum was amazing, although I suspect that many items were stolen or robbed from other countries. I was excited to find that my hotel was close to an Oxfam shop, so off I went. It was on a side street, and looked small. I walked in…I thought I walked into a second hand clothing/book store. There was a small selection of Oxfam food products, but that was about it. Nothing like the Oxfam shops in Australia. I was very confused. Isn’t UK the heart of Oxfam? I asked the shop assistant if there were bigger Oxfam shops in London, but they said every Oxfam shop was pretty much the same size. I walked out with some dried fruit and felt disappointed.

Spain and Portugal were relaxing and cheaper than the other countries I just visited. Fast fashion chains like Mango, Zara and H&M were very popular. I didn’t come across any fair trade shops. To be honest, I still had not got over the disappointment in London.

Then I crossed the border to Africa on a ferry. Morocco is a very different country to Europe. I experienced my first sand storm and first camel ride.

camel

I also discovered a local ingredient: argan oil. Apparently, it is the latest cosmetic secret on the world stage. Expensive products are using argan oil as a selling point. Argan tree is native to Morocco, and at this stage, only grows in Morocco. I visited a local women’s cooperative that produces argan oil for cooking and cosmetics. I loved how the women working there were so happy and proud.

I looked up Morocco fair trade, and the only organisation I could find was Tighanimine. I tried to visit them, but by the time they got back to me, I was already too far away. I heard that many cooperatives are in the process of getting certified, so I’m definitely keeping an eye on this space. I’m also interested to learn whether there are sufficient interest for argan oil in Australia. I found a few sellers in Australia, but none seems to stock fair trade.

Are you interested in fair trade argan oil? Please leave your comments below.

Argan oil producers

Throughout Morocco, there was hardly anyone who knew about fair trade. I talked to carpenters, woodworkers, shoe makers etc., but the responses were always disappointing. I left some business cards and asked them to look at setting up websites and getting fair trade certification. From what I could see, they were simply relying on demand from tourists. But that’s not enough.

In my search for answers, I came across a great website that allows Moroccan artisans to sell directly to people around the world. I thought the prices were very reasonable, in fact, they are similar to what you’ll pay in the market after some bargaining. But if you buy online, you’ll know that the product is handmade and the artisan gets all the profit.

This sums up my trip. Thank you to all those who placed orders while I was absent and patiently waited for your orders to arrive. Now the shop is open again and all orders will be dispatched within 24 hours. Cheers!

How bombshells are turned into jewellery and spoons

Australia is a lucky country compared to Laos and Cambodia, where millions of undetonated bombs threaten lives every day. During the Vietnam War, the United States dropped more than 270 million sub-munitions in an attempt to block the flow of North Vietnamese arms and troops through Laos. This makes Laos the most heavily bombed nation per capita in the world. It is estimated that more than 30% of these sub-munitions failed to explode, leaving Laos with 80 million of undetonated bombs. Since 1973, there have been around 12,000 explosion-related accidents.

Cambodia’s notorious landmine problem is the product of a civil war that spanned three decades and claimed the lives of up to three million people, or one third of the entire population. Today, more than 40,000 people are amputees. The vast majority of the victims are men and thus the traditional bread earner.

It is very expensive to clear lands affected by undetonated bombs. Despite the efforts of the relevant government bodies in both countries, millions of undetonated bombs are still unremoved.

It is within this context that a new type of product was born: recycled bombshell.

Aluminium and brass are commonly used in the construction of bombs. Once exploded, the metals can be melted and made into spoons, chop sticks and jewellery. The local people started with making spoons out of bombshells to feed their children after the war. With the help of western designers and innovative thinkers, they started to turn bombshells into beautiful jewellery.

Recycled bombshell products are ethical in three main ways:

• recycles existing material

• provides extra income for land clearance

• provides job opportunities for local people

You can view how bombshells are turned into jewellery from our Oz Fair Trade’s YouTube channel.

It is estimated that it will take 800 years to eliminate all the undetonated bombs in Laos and Cambodia, but buying these recycled bombshell products can help hasten the process: each purchase supports landmine removal from 5 square meters of land. The farmer-artisans who make the products from wartime scrap metal earn a living for their families while bringing income and investment into their communities.

Q: How did people learn to melt the bomb metals?

A: There is a mysterious story about a man melting metals after the war and made spoons from them. A few men watched him, and the skill was passed from one family to another, from one generation to the next.

 

Q: Is collecting bomb scraps dangerous?

A: Each country has its own dedicated organisation that carries out skilled land clearings. The people there are well trained and experienced. Generating an income from recycled bombshell products help them to train more people to clear lands affected by undetonated bombs. These people have a very positive attitude: the bombs are here so we might as well do something productive with them.

 

Q: What is the process from bomb to jewellery/spoon?

A: The artisans use handmade molds, which are made of wood and ash from the fire. They make a square wood box and fill that box with ash or dirt, which is mixed with water. They make the shape – an impression on both sides of the mold – and let it dry to a plaster. When it’s all dry, they pour the metal that they’ve melted from disabled mines in their kiln into a little hole, shaping out the piece. Once it’s cooled, they sand it smooth – into a unique piece of jewellery/spoon.

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Own a piece of history. 

Spread a message of peace.

Wear something truly extraordinary.

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Turning 30

After 14.5 years in China and 15.5 years in Australia, I am truly a product of mixed cultural influences. On the eve of my 30th birthday, I look back at my achievements and regrets.

Achievements:

  • Survived a childhood without my mum, who left me for Australia when I was 4.
  • Safely made a solo return trip from China to Australia when I was 9.
  • Moved to Australia when I was 14 and survived the first six months of school subject to bully and language barriers.
  • Graduated from high school with an UAI of 99.3 and became an unlikely dux.
  • Managed to finish an actuarial degree and an economics degree.
  • Moved to Canberra alone and made a few good friends.
  • Got driver’s licence after two years of classes.
  • Landed a job where my skills can be utilised.
  • Taught myself how to ride a bike.
  • Learned to swim.
  • Learned to camp.
  • Found love.
  • Found passion.
  • Founded a charity.
  • Lots of travel.
  • Been to Tibet.
  • Adopted a rescue dog.

Regrets:

  • Not taking a gap year.
  • Chose a career based on UAI and expected future salary.
  • Gave up piano after just two years.
  • Being anti-social in university.
  • Spent my hard earned cash on fast fashion.
  • Not spending more time with my grandparents before they passed away.

On the eve of turning 30, I am content. I have a good job, nice colleagues, a loving partner, healthy parents, a cute dog, an upcoming European trip, a growing charity and a number of supporters. Most of these were not imaginable three years ago.

My biggest wish for the next decade is to grow Oz Fair Trade and to convince more people to choose fair trade.

Are women more ethical than men?

This question could open a can of worms, and it would certainly take far more than 1,000 words to have any reasonable discussion on this topic. For this reason, I’d like to concentrate on just one area of ethics: ethical shopping.

I made an interesting observation recently that over 90% of my customers and Facebook followers are females. Whenever I visit an Oxfam shop, most shoppers are females. Where are the males? Could it possibly be our fault, that there’s simply not enough ethically produced products that appeal to our male counterparts? Or are women simply more ethical than men?

In Australia, Etiko and Eternal Creation have a limited selection of clothing and accessories for men. There are far more choices in the UK, then again over 90% of UK population recognises Fairtrade label, compared to just over 50% in Australia (according to Fairtrade Australia). I don’t know what’s the gender split of customers for these two businesses, but they certainly have far more female products than male products. Since they’ve been in business for a long time, I think we can reasonably assume that the demand for female fair trade products are far greater than those for male fair trade products.

Maybe it’s because women spend money on clothing and accessories while men spend money on gadgets and games?

While ethical fashion and fair trade are well known, ethical gadgets are less heard of. Fairphone, the world’s first ethical smartphone, is probably the only fair trade gadget that I have heard of. The Electronics Industry Trends report, released on Wednesday by Baptist World Aid, found that 97% of companies failed to pay factory workers enough to meet their basic needs.

If our male counterparts are really concerned about whether the people who made their gadgets are fairly paid, then they should demand change from the large companies, and more smaller players like Fairphone would see a market for their products. The lack of such development is a sign that businesses are not yet convinced of the size of this market, which in turn suggests that men might care more about functionality, brand and price than ethics behind the production of products.

I hope I am seeing the beginning of a movement. It took more than 50 years for fair trade to lose the “pity product” image. I hope the journey for ethical electronics will be an easier one. Perhaps we can play a bigger role in this movement, not only as consumers of electronic goods, but also as partners and friends who can educate and influence the purchase decisions of men. According to Money Smart Australia, we spent $9.5 billion a year on gadgets vs $5.1 billion a year on fashion. If we can push forward an ethical electronics movement, then many workers in the developing world will benefit.

p.s. we currently have a small range of fair trade products for men, and we will expand this product range in the near future to include clothing and accessories. Please click here.

I survived on $2 a day

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Recently I signed up to Live Below The Line after being inspired by a friend who is also passionate about fair trade (you can read her blog here). It is a fund raising event, but my main objective was to challenge myself. To be honest I’m not a huge fan of aid; I believe in fair trade as a more viable solution to the alleviation of poverty. I signed up simply to experience what’s it like to live on $2 a day.

In the planning process, I calculated:

  • how much a slice of cheese was
  • how much a slice of bread was
  • how much a cup of rice was
  • etc.

Such things never crossed my mind before. I also came to the realisation that I couldn’t possibly afford any meat at $2 a day. Mostly I relied on rice, weetbix and bread. Here’s what I ate on a typical day:

Breakfast:

Two pieces of weetbix with milk as usual. This costs roughly $0.30.

Lunch:

Rice and frozen veggie come to the rescue! Frozen peas and corns cost $4 per kg. I used 200g per meal, that’s $0.80.

Dinner:

I had $0.90 left to spend on dinner:

  • two slices of bread with peanut butter: $0.50
  • one banana: $0.30
  • one carrot: $0.10

After five days of living on $2 a day, I lost 0.5kg and I can honestly say that it’s not easy. On Saturday morning I had a chicken pie for breakfast 🙂

My main takeaway:

We can’t expect someone who’s financially stressed to take strategic steps to break poverty cycle. When our mind is constantly on how much a cup of rice is, it is extremely difficult to step back and think strategically. Only when basic human needs are met, then we can talk about the next step.

 

Top 10 Fair Trade Gifts for Mother’s Day

I visited my mum recently. My mum is picky, and in the past I have always had trouble finding her gifts that she actually liked. Not this year. Here are my top 10 picks of Fair Trade Gifts for this Mother’s Day. Happy reading and share it with your friends 🙂

Top 1 Fair Trade Gift For Mother’s Day: Handmade Wool Felt Home Boots $34

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My mum loved them! I ended up gifting one pair to my future mother-in-law, one pair to my future grandmother-in-law and one pair to my future sister-in-law. They are super soft and super warm, hand stitched by Nepalese women. How do I know they are Fair Trade? Because their supplier is a certified Fair Trader by the World Fair Trade Organisation. For more information about how they are made or to make a purchase please click on the photo above.

Top 2 Fair Trade Gift For Mother’s Day: PEACEBOMB bangle $10

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This is the best selling product from Oz Fair Trade. Not only is it a beautiful silver toned bangle, but also a meaning item carrying a special message of peace. Each bangle is handmade from recycled bombshells in Laos. It helps to clear up lands affected by bombs and creates employment for villagers. Mums love them because they are both beautiful and special.

Top 3 Fair Trade Gift For Mother’s Day: Bombshell Spoon Gift Pack $25

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These spoons are also the most popular items from Oz Fair Trade’s PEACEBOMB range. They are made in Laos using recycled bombshell aluminium. The gift pack contains a full size dinner spoon, a long spoon for stirring, a tea spoon and a miniature spoon. It comes with a story card and a beautiful origami crane, all wrapped in a delightful gift box as shown above. Christmas or not, this is our best selling gift pack!

Top 4 Fair Trade Gift For Mother’s Day: Organic Hand Woven Silk Scarf $85

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This is a beautiful gift for an elegant lady who values quality and leisure. She might even be a weaver herself, or a knitter. We have a few unique pieces of hand woven silk scarves starting from just $19.95. Click here.

Top 5 Fair Trade Gift For Mother’s Day: Bright Blue Dotted Wood Earrings $45

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This is a perfect gift for an arty mum, who loves aboriginal art and bright colours. We have a beautiful range of hard-to-find jewellery for women of all ages, starting from just $10. Click here.

Top 6 Fair Trade Gift For Mother’s Day: Hand Embroidered Cosmetic Bag Featuring Farm Life $25

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Super cute and most suited for winter, this bright coloured cosmetic bag will put a smile on anyone’s face! We have them in white, black and red, and also in coin purses for just $15. Get your mum a gift fro this delightful range here.

Top 7 Fair Trade Gift For Mother’s Day: Stylish Naturally Dyed Hemp Backpack $69

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This is for a nature loving mum who appreciates hemp as an eco-friendly and durable material. This bag is light weight and batik dyed with traditional Thai patterns. The stripes are comfortable. It makes a stylish backpack for a weekend getaway or a market day. We also have it in cross-body shape.

Top 8 Fair Trade Gift For Mother’s Day: Batik Deer Eco European Cushion Cover $65

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A super cute cushion cover will definitely delight your mum! It is naturally dyed so it has no harmful chemicals. We also have it in elephant design. If you prefer cushions that come with inserts, we have quite a few standard size cushions with inserts made in Australia from recycled plastic bottles, starting from just $25. Check them out here.

Top 9 Fair Trade Gift For Mother’s Day: Pure Alpaca Scarf $60

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Alpaca is the best material for winter. It is non-prickly and extremely warm. This scarf is handmade by Bolivian women. Your purchase helps them to have an income in their summer months. Choose from our beautiful range of pure alpaca scarves here.

Top 10 Fair Trade Gift For Mother’s Day: Pure Alpaca Gloves

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These super soft gloves will go well with our alpaca scarves. Keep your mum warm this winter!

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How to feed the world’s poorest without growing more food

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I was invited to an event held by the ACT Fair Trade Collective last night. The topic was on food sustainability and fair trade. There were four speakers:

  • Mandy Nearhos, Co-convenor ACT Fair TradeCollective;
  • Molly Harriss, the newly appointed CEO of Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand;
  • Debbie Hunt, NSW/ ACT Campaign and Engagement Coordinator, Oxfam Australia; and
  • Federico Davila, ANU PHD Student specialising in food sustainability

In the past 2 years I have been searching for answers to help the world’s poorest. My search led me to setting up Oz Fair Trade in the hope that I could help some people to improve their living standards through their skills and a fair trading system. At the moment Oz Fair Trade only deals with handicrafts, which many women rely upon for a sustainable income, as land becomes a scarce resource in many developing countries. I was thinking about expanding into food such as coffee and tea, but decided to postpone the plan because there are a few businesses in Australia that are doing a wonderful job in this field (such as Republica).

The night was very educational for me, as my knowledge of fairtrade concentrated on handicrafts not food. You’d think that farmers are the ones closest to food so why are they starving? One answer is that farmers are pressured by global economic systems to grow “cash crops” such as cotton. It’s all good when they get a good return, but the reliance on a single product inevitably makes one vulnerable to price changes. Other answers include their reliance on good weather conditions, unfair prices set by powerful buyers, corruption, land grabs etc.

The problem is not that we are not growing enough food. The problem is that a lot of the food is wasted instead of feeding the people who need it most. The world food system, as part of the global trade system, is broken. Governments have been shown to be powerless in terms of driving changes. NGOs have been doing great jobs such as pushing for Fair Trade. There are many ways to fix the system e.g. fairtrade, microfinance, microinsurance, addressing climate change etc.

As consumers, we have so much power that we don’t realise. Again and again, it has been shown that companies do listen if we are loud enough and care enough. Oxfam recently exposed ANZ’s involvement in a sugar plantation investment in Cambodia which forced hundreds of farmers to leave their farms. This contradicts ANZ’s social responsible policy. As consumers, we can hold them accountable. Be sure to be loud and clear.

So what can you do? You can:

  • choose fairtrade certified products whenever possible
  • spread the message of fairtrade among your friends and colleagues
  • waste less food and start a worm farm
  • buy locally produced food helps to reduce food miles
  • sign petitions to stop land grabs and unfair trade
  • support brands that really respect people and planet
  • vote for politicians who care about climate and people
  • write to companies who don’t have a social responsible policy or don’t obey them
  • make some noise on social media to show that you care
  • eat more veggie helps to reduce demand for meat which has higher carbon footprints, and veggie is good for you
  • lend small amounts to the poorest through organisations like Kiva and Good Return. From personal experience, the repayments have been excellent
  • choose superannuation funds such as Australian Ethical Super that invest only in ethical companies

etc.

Molly pointed out that in UK more than 80% know about fairtrade and more than 50% regularly buy fairtrade. In Australia, 50% know about fairtrade and 15% regularly buy fairtrade. This confirms my feeling that a lot more can be done in Australia.

If you are interested in how to fix the world food system, you can find useful information on Oxfam’s website. If you are interested in fairtrade handicrafts please checkout my not-for-profit social business Oz Fair Trade where customer service is guaranteed!