Visitors to Traditions in Olympia, Washington, may be lured into the shop by the smell of incense or the strains of international music. They may stay to browse its collections of carved wooden animals from Kenya, lacquer pins from Russia or colorful Guatemalan shawls. They may even stop to sip a cup of environmentally correct coffee, grown by independent farmers and without damage to the environment, in the adjoining cafe. But no matter how long they stay, one thing is certain: They'll leave with an education.
That's because owner Dick Meyer's goal isn't simply to sell wonderful products--it's to promote awareness of working conditions in developing countries around the world, often by telling the stories of the artisans who produce his store's merchandise. Part of a growing international "fair trade" movement helping to develop markets for disadvantaged artisans, Meyer works with cooperatives, collectives and wholesalers worldwide to ensure that his wares are not only appealing but socially responsible.
"I've always been in-volved with social and community issues," says Meyer. "I liked the idea of selling products that benefit not only my community but the community of the artisan."
According to the International Federation for Alternative Trade (IFAT), the primary purpose of fair trade is to "trade with concern for the social, economic and environmental well-being of marginalized producers in developing countries." Products purchased from participating groups are guaranteed to have been made under humane working conditions--no sweatshops, no convicts and no exploitative child labor.
"When consumers purchase something from a fair-trade store," says Candi Smucker, co-owner of retail store Baksheesh in Sonoma, California, "they're guaranteed the person who made the product is being paid fairly and isn't working in sweatshop conditions," a claim major retailers can't always make.
Moira Allen is the author of Writing.com (Allworth Press) and editor of Global Writers' Ink, an electronic newsletter for international writers. She has been writing professionally for more than 20 years.