Musician Rorie Kelly summed up one of the major dilemmas of fair trade in her recent post, I can’t afford to have principles. Like many, Rorie is struggling to get by in our down economy. The struggle in Rorie is the struggle in every engaged consumer.
Hey man, if you can’t even really afford to put food on your table and you need to buy a nice pair of pants so you can keep your job, it’s OK with me if you spend $20 on sweatshop pants rather than go without eating for a few weeks. And that’s about where I’m at right now.
After years of exercising that principle while living on a low income in an incredibly expensive city, and then losing my independent living situation to boot, here’s what happened: I needed some new stuff (like a coat!) and I couldn’t wait anymore. Everything fell apart. My old cons became somewhat legendary in their disrepair*. I could no longer close my old coat (the, ah, fasteny-things all fell off.). The soles of the boots I wore in rain and snow literally broke in half.This is why I buy fair trade: because I can’t stand to contribute any money to corporations that are keeping poor people in poverty (and in fact making that poverty worse and more widespread on a daily basis). Even though I KNOW my $20 or whatever makes absolutely no difference in the scheme of things to these companies–especially since I can hardly ever afford to, y’know, buy anything!–I just can’t stand to do it. It HURTS me.