Who gives a damn about Fairtrade?

Trisha Striker Fairtrade Advocate
Etiko has a diverse group of loyal customers with their own unique reasons for giving a damn about Fairtrade. So, we thought we’d chat with a few of those customers and find out more about why they choose to shop with Etiko.

Have a read and take note: you might pick up some tips that could help you convert the rellies at your next family barbecue.

We’ve already interviewed, Reverend John Martin – a retired Uniting Church Minister in his mid-70s. And this month, we’re chatting with Trisha Striker, an academic and passionate advocate against modern slavery (take a look at her Tedx Talk on the true cost of fast fashion).

Here’s what Trisha had to say about Fairtrade.

Tell us a little about yourself and your interest in modern slavery.

I grew up in a bustling city in South India. It was a city of extremes in a country of extremes. Seeing poverty and suffering around me was common. It was an accepted part of life, not because people didn’t care, but because people had to accept it as a coping mechanism because it was too hard to constantly be upset and sad, especially when systemic issues prevented the real, long-term change from occurring. I think as a child I normalised these injustices, but they still bothered me – why did some people suffer so much more? Why was there so much poverty even when there existed so many programs to help the poor?

One day things changed…I think I experienced my first existential crisis when I was about 5 years old. I have a distinct memory of walking past a building site where I saw a young girl, about my age, carrying bricks on her head. She seemed to be working there with her family. Her feet were bare, clothes were torn, her face and hands dusty from carrying bricks. We looked at each other. This wasn’t an unusual sight for me, but for some reason that day it suddenly hit me. Our lives were so different. Why didn’t she go to school? Where did she sleep at night? What did she do for fun? There began a quest that still continues today – to understand why it is so difficult to end poverty and injustice, and for every human being to have a flourishing life.

Many years later, I was studying Business and Economics in QLD. I was introduced to the economic concept of global supply chains, growth, and ‘negative externalities. Negative externalities were explained as the bad stuff that happens when the “good” thing of growth is being pursued, like it was an inevitable and unfortunate outcome that needed to be accepted for the “greater good”. But that didn’t sit well with me. Greater good of whom? I just couldn’t accept that the negative externalities of the suffering of people was an accepted part of growth and raising the standard of living around the world. These are real people, with real lives. I realised that economic growth is unequal: some people benefit, and some people are made worse off. It was a shocking realisation that poverty and suffering could be created…and didn’t just necessarily simply exist.

I had always known of the exploitation and slavery of people in creation of goods and services that we consume…but it was towards the end of my study that the Australian Modern Slavery Act was introduced, and this introduced me to the term ‘modern slavery’. I was able to see that some situations of exploitation were types of modern slavery, and therefore an organisation now was under obligation by the Australian government (and now many other governments) to do something about it.

Is that why you became involved in advocacy against modern slavery?

Yes. I started to look at my university’s procurement principles and policies when it came to sustainability, which then led me to research Australian businesses that were doing things differently. I was interested in businesses that didn't just focus on causing minimal harm, but actually doing more good...and then I discovered Etiko . I started asking Nick questions back in 2016, and he was always very open and honest about the challenges of running an ethical business. I still go to him with questions today.

Did you already know about Fairtrade when you discovered Etiko?

I knew about Fairtrade as a concept but didn’t know how it worked or what the benefits were. I had shopped at the old Oxfam shop in Brisbane, and I knew that by shopping there, people had safe and meaningful work by earning a fair wage. So, I had a vague understanding. It was only through chatting with Nick that I learned more about Fairtrade and the certification body behind it. As someone who is interested in economics and the idea of economic growth, Fairtrade became a different lens to view growth through.

Are you a Fairtrade advocate?

I would say I’m a supporter of Fairtrade, and advocate for Fairtrade as one way to tackle injustice, but I also understand that it’s not a perfect solution – there is no perfect solution at the moment. But I think Fairtrade comes very close to doing best practice – Fairtrade has visibility over their supply chains and goes one step above compliance by having a positive impact. I definitely support that.

What types of Fairtrade products do you buy?

I try to avoid buying new things and have gone about five years without buying new clothing. I look for secondhand or swap with friends. But if I can’t find what I need, I try to buy the best that I can. Usually, the things I’m buying are socks, undies and casual basics that will last me a very long time. So, I buy those things from Etiko. I also buy Fairtrade chocolate for myself. I give Fairtrade coffee as a gift but don’t drink coffee myself. And I buy Fairtrade tea – I’m a big tea drinker, and my favourite is Earl Grey. If I can’t find a Fairtrade Earl Grey tea that I like, I look for the next best brand – which means looking into the transparency and values of a company.

Because you’ve spent years researching supply chains and modern slavery, you’re uniquely positioned to assess brands. Do you have any tips for other people on how to choose a brand to purchase from?

My advice to people is firstly consider whether you actually need something before you buy it. And if you do need it, can you buy it secondhand or repurpose something else? If you have to purchase something brand new, there are plenty of guides and apps to help you make considered purchases. The Baptist World Aid Ethical Fashion Guide is useful, and there’s a fantastic app called Good On You that rates companies based on a lot of research. The Fairtrade certification symbol is always good to look for, of course.

I’d also like to say that this burden of making a good choice shouldn’t be on consumers. There should be legislation in place that keeps businesses accountable. My hope is that if we keep telling businesses that we don’t want their items that are made by exploiting people and the environment, and we will only buy things that align with our values, they will have to do better and give us better.

Why do you think people should shop Fairtrade?

I think people should shop more fairly – whether that’s through Fairtrade or another way. I want people to be aware that the things that make their lives better shouldn’t come at the cost of someone else. No one should have to suffer so we can flourish. I also want people to remember that when we engage in shopping, we are engaging in trade. And trade is kind of fun – we can get cool stuff from other parts of the world that connects us to real human beings who have touched the items we buy. Trade can make us feel connected to other people. We just need to trade more fairly.

What do you think is the best thing about Fairtrade?

That they ensure a market price for their farmers and suppliers, and they have a Fairtrade Premium on top of that. The Premium provides a safeguard for those workers when things go bad – like during Covid, for example. Fairtrade helps communities to help themselves. It gives dignity back to people by empowering them to build their own capacity.

What do you think are the most challenging aspects of Fairtrade?

The cost of Fairtrade certification. And that’s not a criticism. It costs money to conduct the intense audits that the Fairtrade certification scheme runs. But the cost does stop some companies from achieving certification. It can also be hard to communicate to consumers the reason why Fairtrade costs more, especially when consumers are so conditioned to make price-based decisions, particularly in the current climate.

Anything else?

I’d like to encourage people to stand up to the pressure that marketers put on us to feel anxiety and insecurity. They profit by making us think we need to buy certain products to be worthy, and we’ve been told that consumerism will make us truly happy. But that’s not true. And I’d just like to encourage people to stand up and refuse that pressure. Take some time to think about your values and your life, and then how you can align your values with your everyday life.

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