For most of us, Christmas is a time we spend with family and friends. It is an age-old tradition that we can spend many weeks preparing for, from choosing the 'right' gift for those we care about, to decorating the tree in all its glory. We all want the day to be just right, as perfect as it can be. Even though, for many people these days, the focus may be less on religion and more about having fun, the importance is still the same. However, though Christmas is all about giving, it is also a holiday that can bear heavily on the world around us. Many of the items we purchase to make our Christmas Day just that little bit more special are made by thousands of people working around the world for less than it costs to feed and clothe their families.
What really got me thinking about a fair trade Christmas was the homework my child did for school recently - he had to research a sports company to find out whether it traded fairly. During this research, we discovered that the Jabulani World Cup replica balls, sold for a not-very-cheap price in the high street, were made by workers in rural Pakistan for a wage which, although was in meeting with the minimum wage there, did not provide the workers with enough money for basic requirements.
Shocking, I thought, when all around the world children are buying these balls to celebrate, and to feel a part of, a huge revenue-raising competition called the World Cup. And that led me to start thinking about Christmas. After all, when we are all celebrating a holiday which, for many, has become an occasion in which we spend obscene amounts of money, other people should not be suffering in the process. At the end of the day, Christmas should be about giving, loving and caring - not about exploitation. And, as consumers, really the only way we can be sure that workers are receiving a fair wage for their labour is by purchasing fair trade.
Having fair trade Christmas decorations hanging from your tree means that you can look at it with a sense of satisfaction, knowing that you have helped to make better the lives of people who are often living at the cruel hands of poverty. These baubles (pictured right) were made by Jute Works, a fair trade set up in Bangladesh, which started up by providing work at a fair price to destitute women, many of whom were refugees. Now it enables women to work outside the home, raising much needed funds for their families, whilst making beautiful, handcrafted goods. And they look great too! Jute Works can be purchased through Traidcraft, a fair trade company which provides numerous products manufactured by workers around the world who receive a fair price for their work.
Fair Trade Real Christmas Trees
You might be wondering how a real Christmas tree can be any more fair trade than it already is - after all, the majority of trees we purchase for the festive season are grown locally, by workers who reside in countries where a 'living' wage is already received. However, a bit of research led me to learn something I didn't know and had never considered - the seeds used for growing the very popular Nordmann Firs, which a large proportion of us consider to be the best real Christmas tree in terms of low needle droppage, are harvested in Georgia, where poverty is a very real problem.
Of course, just like myself, most people choosing a real tree for their festive celebrations will not even consider the origin of the tiny seed from which their tree has grown, but the sad truth is that most Nordmann Fir seeds are harvested in Georgia, in primitive and dangerous working conditions.
Take a Moment To Consider The True Picture:
- The seeds are cultivated by hand, by cone pickers who are required to climb 30 metre trees to do so.
- There is no safety equipment available. Conditions are dangerous and accidents, and even fatalities, occur.
- The Georgian cone pickers are not paid a fair wage - the money they receive in reward for their dangerous labour is not even enough for them to properly support their families.
Fair Trade Christmas Trees by Fair Trees
Three years ago, and in order to support the poor cone pickers of Georgia, the Fair Trees brand was launched, following the founding of the Bol Xmas Tree Fund. Fair Trees is approved by Fair Trade Denmark, for which strict regulations must be met. Safety equipment for the cone pickers harvesting seeds for Fair Trees is provided, along with instruction and a fair wage. This is an excellent development - a fair trade Christmas tree can be admired and enjoyed, without concern or guilt that vulnerable labourers have suffered in the process. Additionally, the standard of living for the cone pickers in Georgia is improved by higher salaries.
For Information on Fair Trade Christmas trees, visit www.fairtrees.co.uk or contact Teresa Owen, founder of FairWind at www.fairwindonline.com. Teresa is currently promoting the growing of fair trade Nordmann Fir seeds at nurseries in the UK.
Fair Trade Gifts
We all want to find the perfect gift for our loved ones at Christmas, but unfortunately many of the most popular items we choose in the High Street are made by workers in countries where employment conditions are less than desirable. A lot of the time, it is not actually these countries themselves that are at fault, but the multi-billion western companies which demand high supply at a cheap rate. These companies might claim that they inspect the factories concerned, insisting on good working conditions, but it all comes down to this: the factories often cannot meet these impossibly high demands without employees working longer hours, or outsourcing to less reputable, unregulated 'sweat shops'. It's a vicious circle, and it must also be noted that even though these companies often implement minimum wage legislation, these minimum wages are often not 'living' wages. A living wage is a salary high enough to support the basic needs of a family, i.e. adequate shelter, food, clothing and schooling.
Fair Trade companies, on the other hand, insist on a living wage being paid to workers, thus they pay more for the products to ensure this is possible. It might not be possible to purchase every gift on your families' Christmas lists from fair trade suppliers, but even if some of the gifts you purchase for Christmas are fair trade, then you can rest in the knowledge that you have supported workers who are guaranteed a living wage, and aided their recovery from abject poverty.
Traidcraft, Fairgift, Shared Earth, Ethical Superstore, Natural Collection, Indego Africa and Created Gifts are all companies which offer fair trade gift solutions. You can find a wide variety of gifts, from toys, gadgets, bags and jewellery to homeware, textiles, ceramics, ornaments, chocolates and wine.
Here's To A Happy, Fair Trade Christmas
To sum it all up, Christmas is a time of happiness, giving and family festivities. Sometimes, however, it is important to look out into the wider world, to the origin of the products we buy. If we only make life better for one person; one family, living in poverty somewhere in the world, then perhaps we really will have made it a happy Christmas.
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