When the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center opened its Fair Trade store back in 1989, few people understood the concept. Fair trade stores at that time were limited and often church-run, said Anita Boyle, founder of the store and current director of the peace center housing it. Now, she says, fair trade is growing, its fruits even popping up on mainstream shelves.
The idea behind fair trade is that agricultural producers and artisans in poor countries be paid a decent living wage, with efforts made to preserve the communities in which workers live. Over the years, the peace center has worked closely with the Fair
Trade Federation, a D.C.-based international association composed of over 200 wholesalers, retailers and producers that links low-income producers in Third World countries with consumer markets in the United States.
Chris O’Brien, associate director of the FTF, said increasing awareness of trade issues—including the attention garnered by protests of WTO meetings in Cancun and Seattle and the recent FTAA meeting in Miami—has helped bring the inequities of world trade to the fore.
“When citizens are aware that there are problems with trade, it is much easier to provide a story of a trade model that works,” O’Brien said. “People are excited to hear solutions instead of hearing about all the problems.”
As evidence of fair trade’s growth, O’Brien points to the 2003 Report on Fair Trade Trends in the United States, Canada and the Pacific Rim, which tallies an increase in total North American fair trade sales of 44 percent from 2001 to 2002.
Certified Missoula FTF members include Missoula-based jewelry wholesaler Rishashay and Mundo Real, a wholesaler of apparel, accessories, jewelry and housewares. And of course several non-certified local outlets sell individual free trade products, including coffee, which Doyle says accounts for much of Missoula’s recent free-trade growth.