Fair Trade is NOT a Trend
Blog post #11
Anna Ver Beek & Sarah Parker
The PLNU bookstore has a variety of selections that support school participation and pride and many practical items for college students including books, school supplies, water bottles, lanyards, and cards (for when they remember to write that thank you note they should have weeks ago). They also sell fashion items like jewelry, hats, and scarves. The fashion items include jewelry from a company called 31 Bits that helps empower the women in Uganda who make it. But, unlike the cards, these bracelets are not one of the top selling small items in the bookstore.
According to the bookstore manager, the 31 Bits bracelets “were brought in to be part of [the] fall/winter trend table, the main goal of the table was giving back”. This is a great place to start. But is this table encouraging ethical consumption or is it just an attempt to boost the image of the On campus bookstore? The giving table, covered in small items that are not bought on a daily basis by the average PLNU student sends the message that shopping ethically may be trendy, but isn’t necessary.
We don’t want to discourage the effort of the bookstore to buy ethically and support organizations like 31 Bits. In fact, we applaud these efforts and believe that it is a major step in the right direction. However, we believe that buying ethically and sustainably produced products is not a trend, it is a responsibility. If we do not fulfill this responsibility then we are actively participating in the mistreatment and disenfranchisement of the poor, as well as the degradation of the environment. If the bookstore agrees, then they should look for socially and environmentally responsible producer for all their products, especially their “top sellers.”
Books and apparel aside, the bookstore’s top selling item is greeting cards. The bookstore purchases these cards from a company called “Sunrise Greetings,” which is owned and operated by Hallmark Co. While Hallmark is not on the list of 2013 corporate villains and has never had a Nike-like sweatshop scandal, it is a transnational corporation with the sole intention of making as much profit as it can. Hallmark does not:
- Give back to the community
- Source locally
- Assure that the trees used for its cards are harvested sustainably
- Use recycled paper products
If Point Loma’s bookstore truly wants to make some changes then it should start by choosing a socially and environmentally responsible company for its top selling items. Greeting cards would be a good place to start. Good Paper is a company that sells handmade-fairtrade-ecofreindly cards. I’m sure they would love our business!
Right now you’re probably thinking: “well that all sounds great, but I bet those cards cost twice as much as the Hallmark cards.” If that’s what crossed your mind, then you are totally right. The main reason the bookstore isn’t selling exclusively social and environmentally responsible products is that we (the consumers) aren’t willing to pay for it. Remember the 31 Bits bracelets we were talking about earlier? Well, a month or two ago they were selling for around $10, but a few weeks ago the price dropped to around $5. Prices drop for a variety of reasons, but the most likely cause is that not enough bracelets were sold, so the prices dropped to get rid of them and make way for new merchandise. Even if the bookstore is genuine and well intentioned, if it can’t sell ethically made products, it has no incentive to buy them.
Notice, that your role as the consumer puts a lot of power (and responsibility) into your hands. We will leave you with some food for thought: Do you think ethical consumption is merely a part of the fall/winter trend? If you do, then the bookstore, and every other company you buy from will continue to cut corners, pay unfair wages, destroy the environment and operate without concern for the greater good of the community. If ethical consumption is just a trend, then we will continue to buy the trendy fair trade coffee and pour it into Wal-Mart mugs. However, if we believe that God calls us to “Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out (Isaiah 1:17),” then our purchases MUST reflect our faith. Get used to paying the price for ethical products, and encourage the retailers you buy from to do the same!
By: Anna Ver Beek & Sarah Parker