by Allison Havens, Yabal Director
I had to share some thoughts in these recent days after the US election as I am both deeply committed to the philosophy of fair trade and also deeply saddened by the US public’s acceptance of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and all around hate as shown through the election of Trump.
While many people who supported his presidency are openly racists in their reasons, a large percentage of people that voted for him claim not to be racists but rather voted for him because they liked his trade policies and promise to bring back jobs to the US, get rid of trade agreements, and yes, to support Fair Trade.
While I am skeptical that he will do any of those things that he promised, as is evidenced by his treatment of workers that worked for him over the past three decades, I’m not interested in debating whether he will or will not enact Fair Trade or other policies, but rather in addressing the problem I see of anyone believing that Trump is any sort of champion for Fair Trade.
I agree that free trade agreements have destroyed the economies in Latin America and the US by giving corporations free reign to exploit local workers and export manufacturing jobs abroad. These jobs are not helping lift these countries out of poverty, they are low wage jobs. These trade agreements allow an influx of cheap products into the local market thus destroying local economies. In Guatemala, where Yabal is located, for instance, the area outside of Xela used to be full of wheat crops and local bread makers. The influx of cheap un-taxed flour from the US destroyed that whole economy and now there are virtually no wheat crops. Same with corn, it is now cheaper for farmers to buy imported corn flour from the US than to grow their own corn crops, a tradition which Mayan people have done for thousands of years. Cheap used clothing imports from the US have hurt local clothing manufacturers here. The result of exporting cheap products to foreign markets and exporting manufacturing jobs to foreign countries is that you 1) get rid of US jobs 2) export cheap US products to other countries thus destroying local agricultural and manufacturing jobs 3) then hire all these now-desperate unemployed people in foreign countries to work for low wages in factories- wages which do not allow them to overcome poverty (this poverty is then the main reason people immigrate to the US in search of work). Fair trade and labor rights as a national and global policy requires that workers be paid fair wages, livable wages.
However, it is more than that. When I began to hear fair trade in the speeches of Trump and in the reasons that supporters gave for supporting his presidency, I was appalled. How can anyone committed to fair trade principles support such violent, racist, homophobic, and sexist rhetoric? Fair trade is about humans, people, about caring for the people and environment on our planet. Hate is not part of it. Fair Trade is committed to empowering producers that are often the most marginalized in societies around the world- women, minority populations, disabled people, single mothers, the poor, people without education, rural farmers, the homeless, victims of violence, immigrants- people that are often marginalized in their own societies precisely because of sexism, racism, classism, violence, and historic economic imperialism- the very things Trump promotes. The current trade system is not a fair or just system, it’s a system with its legacy based in colonial economics where the people/countries with power exploit cheap labor in foreign countries and now, more than ever, in the US as well. Fair Trade has to be about more than just jobs, it’s about trying to bring justice back into our economic system.
I hope that Trump will support fair trade but we will have to work extremely hard to push him and his administration to actually encompass the full meaning of “Fair Trade”:
A “Fair Trade” policy means fighting against racism, hate, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, and also economic injustice. These are not secondary issues to Fair Trade, they are the very principles at the heart of Fair Trade.
We at Yabal hope that this national spotlight on fair trade can be an opportunity to educate more people on the importance of fair trade and all the human rights values it represents, but it will be up to all of us to push the conversation forward.
As we enter the holiday buying season, remember that you also have the power to vote for the world you want with your dollars- please support ethical businesses and organizations that are doing good in the world this holiday season!
For those that would like to support Yabal’s artisans and our Fair Trade organization this holiday season, we’d like to invite you to Yabal’s Fair Trade Friday Online sale taking place online from Nov. 25-Dec. 1st at yabalhandicrafts.com.