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WisBiz In-Depth: Fair Trade Movement In Early Stages In State

By Gregg Hoffmann

VIROQUA – Kile Martz hopes he is part of a business movement in the state that still is in its fledgling stages, yet has one of its national anchors in Madison.

“I believe Fair Trade is still in its early stages in Wisconsin,” said Martz, who opened Driftless Fair Traders in the historic Hotel Fortney on Main Street in Viroqua in October.

“I believe it is a different model of doing business that will grow among certain market groups. Why wouldn’t you want the suppliers of your good to be able to sustain themselves?”

The Fair Trade movement aims to promote the social and economic progress of people in developing regions of the world by marketing their products in a just and direct manner.

Two organizations – the International Fair Trade Association and the Fair Trade Federation – are coordinating and promoting fair trade practices on an international level.

SERRV International, which markets fair trade goods around the world, lists its administrative office in Madison. Its operations office is listed in New Windsor, Maryland.

Through its web site, http://www.agreatergift.org">http://www.agreatergift.org, SERRV lists five Fair Trade outlets in Wisconsin. They include: A Greater Gift in Knickerbocker Place, right next to Bluephies restaurant on Madison's West side, and Global Express, 646 W. Washington St. Madison; Future Green, 2352 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Milwaukee, and Third World Handcrafts Shop, Capitol Drive Lutheran Church, 5229 W. Capitol Drive, Milwaukee, and the Plowshare Center, 880 N. Grand Avenue, Waukesha.

Additional stores and vendors, such as Martz’s, have started in the last year at other locations around the state.

“To my knowledge, we are the only Fair Trade store in the southwest part of the state,” said Martz.

Martz carries products made in Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Kenya, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Palestine and other Third World countries.

Before moving to the area and opening his store, Martz, who holds a journalism degree from the University of Missouri, worked in the media and in the software industry.

“I was tired of the corporate model of doing business and was looking for an alternative,” he said. “This area is a great area for people looking for alternatives. The response from people who have come in here has been very encouraging.

“I like the idea that the artisans and others who produce the goods we sell receive fair prices for their creations. I believe it is a more equitable way of doing business than just trying to buy goods at the lowest possible price.”

SERRV lists its goals as alleviating poverty and empowering low-income people through trade, training and other forms of community support as they work to improve their lives. SERRV has worked to assist artisans and farmers for more than 55 years through the following:

-- Marketing their handcrafts and food products in a just and direct manner.

-- Educating consumers in the United States about economic justice and other cultures.

-- Providing development assistance to low-income craftspeople through their community-based organizations.

SERRV International was one of the first alternative trade organizations in the world and was a founding member of the International Fair Trade Association (IFAT).

“We offer our artisan and farmer partners up to 50% advance payment on orders,” the SERRV web site emphasizes. “This advance helps them to purchase raw materials and have a more regular income so they can avoid high interest rates from borrowing locally.”

The Fair Trade movement saw an 18% increase in overall revenues in 2005, driven by a more than 34% increase in sales from A Greater Gift, CRS Work of Human Hands, and LWR Handcraft Project direct mail catalogs, according to Robert S. Chase, president and CEO of SERRV.

“Rising sales mean not just increasing income for low-income artisans and farmers throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America. They also bring rising awareness among US consumers of the benefits of purchasing sustainably sourced products that promote an integrated human development agenda,” Chase said in the SERRV annual report.

“An unexpected late fall surge in orders tested both our systems and staff and made it clear that we need to strengthen our organizational infrastructure to prepare for a rising interest in fairly traded handcrafts and food products.

“SERRV International offers a unique economic development program that allows struggling people in more than 35 countries to acquire the skills and experience to participate successfully in the global economy while earning a fair living from the work of their hands.

“The growing impact and success of this program is only possible because of the committed support of tens of thousands of volunteers, donors, and customers in all 50 states who make our shared vision of a fairer economic system a reality.”

The Fair Trade Federation (FTF) is an association of fair trade wholesalers, retailers, and producers whose members are committed to providing fair wages and good employment opportunities to economically disadvantaged artisans and farmers worldwide.

FTF directly links low-income producers with consumer markets and educates consumers about the importance of purchasing fairly traded products which support living wages and safe and healthy conditions for workers in the developing world. FTF also acts as a clearinghouse for information on fair trade and provides resources and networking opportunities for its members.

On its web site, FTF lists the same Wisconsin outlets as SERRV, but also has Just Coffee in Madison and Trails to Bridges in Merton. Among FTF wholesalers are Asia2You and Canaan Fair Trade in Madison.

The International Fair Trade Association (IFAT) serves the global network of Fair Trade Organizations. IFAT's mission is “to improve the livelihoods and well being of disadvantaged producers by linking and promoting Fair Trade Organizations, and speaking out for greater justice in world trade.”

Almost 300 Fair Trade Organizations in 70 countries form the basis of the IFAT network. Approximately 65% of our members are based in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America with the rest coming from North America, the Pacific Rim and Europe.

Coffee has become one of the growing Fair Trade food products. “Many coffee farmers around the world receive market payments that are lower than the costs of production, forcing them into a cycle of poverty and debt. Intensive coffee farming can also lead to pesticide pollution and deforestation,” reads the FTF web site.

“Fair Trade works to correct these imbalances by guaranteeing a minimum wage for small producers' harvests and by encouraging organic and sustainable cultivation methods. Fair trade farmers are provided badly needed credit and assured a minimum of $1.26 per pound. In comparison, the world price usually hovers around $1 per pound, but most farmers earn less than 50 cents per pound since they are forced to sell to exploitative middlemen. With the profits generated from receiving fair wages, coffee growers can invest in health, education, and environmental protection.”

Chocolate, nuts and tea are other growing Fair Trade food products. Wares ranging from furniture to baskets to artistic creations and tapestries are among the non-food, cultural products produced by international artisans.

Martz, whose store offers mostly the latter products, believes the Fair Trade movement can offer an alternative to what he considers abuses under NAFTA and other free trade pacts that the government has negotiated in recent years.

“Global trade is growing, but it’s a matter of an alternative that is fair to everybody involved,” Martz said. “I believe that somebody who buys a gift in my store is actually giving twice – a fine, well-made gift to their friend or loved one and to the artisan who made the gift somewhere else in the world.”

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