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Fair Trade and Environmental Factors: Social Responsibility is Not Just a Western Ideal

The shift toward social responsibility within business is on the rise in the U.S.

Business owners are now creating their companies with environmentally friendly practices and safe labor conditions, consumers are starting to cut out products that do not achieve Fair Trade standards, and the media have begun holding companies accountable for resisting transparency about where and how they source their materials.

Although ethical business standards help workers and environments across the globe, it does not come without a price.

Products that wear the badge of the Fair Trade label or boast environmental friendliness are often more expensive than other products. Since companies are fairly sourcing their materials, that means they are paying more for the resources to give workers a fair wage; this, in turn, makes the product more expensive when it hits stores’ shelves.

This increase in price has deterred many U.S. consumers from fully investing in the movement toward social responsibility. This made me wonder if businesses in developing countries have had a chance to develop a Fair Trade movement within their poorer societies.

During my time abroad last semester, I interviewed entrepreneurs around the world to see if the Fair Trade movement reached beyond wealthy western economies.

The moment I stepped onto the streets of Ghana, I knew it was going to be difficult to find entrepreneurs who had a goal of achieving Fair Trade standards.

Ghana has a strong growing economy, and most of the citizens are healthy and happy, but they are still developing. Most people have small family businesses out of which they sell food or crafts in the local markets.

These businesses bring in money for the family to have food, clothes and housing, but the funds are little to none beyond those expenses.

These types of individuals are called subsistence entrepreneurs. Their main goal is survival.

When speaking to different small business owners within Ghanaian communities, each person echoed the idea that their businesses served the purpose of survival and happiness, and that they did not have the resources to focus on being socially responsible.

However, I did come across one company that was trying to create change by serving the environment and hiring workers at fair wages.

Edward Eshun, a local Ghanaian entrepreneur, started the small business called African Treasures From Trash. He and his employees collect plastic bags from the littered streets and upcycle them into purses, backpacks, and duffels.

Passionate about the mission of his business, Eshun hopes that Ghana’s economy will continue to grow, and that entrepreneurs like himself will have more opportunities to incorporate social responsibility into their ventures.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has a slowly growing economy, but still remains a developing country.

In many areas of the country survival is the one and only goal of the people. In these parts, entrepreneurs lack the knowledge, skills and resources to create companies that uphold Fair Trade and environmental standards.

But even in this unlikely environment, I came across one man who is creating change within his poor community.

Myu is a full-time banker and the owner of a convenient store.

“I don’t really think about these Fair Trade or environmental factors,” said Myu. “But I focus on social factors because I want to give opportunity to the youth in my community. Some of the kids who sell stuff in my store didn’t pass high school, so I teach them the subjects they didn’t learn.”

I asked Myu if he knew of any businesses that were taking part in the Fair Trade movement in Myanmar. He brought my attention to a company called Genius Coffee.

This business trains coffee bean farmers how to best grow and harvest their beans sustainably. They also help those farmers find buyers that will purchase their coffee at a fair price.

I discovered similar findings in India: most businesses were focused on subsistence, but a few entrepreneurs were making the way for a socially responsible future.

As the U.S. continues to invest in companies that bear the Fair Trade label and uphold responsible environmental practices, other countries’ economies will see benefits with increases in wages and working conditions.

In turn, these growing economies will allow entrepreneurs in those countries to develop businesses that also support environmental and social practices.

It is apparent that western countries are not the only ones worried about maintaining ethical business standards, and this movement is likely to see tremendous growth around the world as economies develop further.

About the author

Maddy Garrett

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