Deepen the holidays through Fair Trade gifting

Associated Press Modified: November 1, 2012 at 12:46 pm •  Published: November 1, 2012
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NEW YORK (AP) — Holiday shopping can be such a grind. You buy, you wrap, you hand it over — times 20. If you're feeling overly cynical, try some Fair Trade gifting and offer your recipients the story behind their gifts as well.

Not unlike the terms "organic" and "eco-friendly," figuring out exactly what Fair Trade means and where to find the real deal can be confusing. With no one oversight or regulatory body, a variety of organizations offer Fair Trade certification.

Some distributors of handcrafts and gifty foodstuffs like coffee, tea and chocolate do without a Fair Trade sticker or label on their products but tout their embrace of broad principles promising they do business ethically.

Others have been through a careful screening process after developing long-term relationships with small farmers and artisan cooperatives around the world.

Most sell online or through small boutiques and shops.

"During the holidays we get all this stuff. It's all about the stuff and we never take the time to think about where it came from and who made it," said Renee Bowers, executive director of the Fair Trade Federation, based in Wilmington, Del.

"Fair Trade is really talking about a commitment and the relationship between a buyer and a seller as a method of poverty alleviation," she said.

The Fair Trade Federation publishes its core principles at Fairtradefederation.org/principles. Transparency is a stalwart in the Fair Trade movement, but if you don't want the hassle of digging deep into the business arrangements behind the baskets, home decor or accessories you choose as gifts, the federation has about 250 screened members in the United States and Canada.

Some possibilities:

TEXTILES

About 20 years ago, in the southeast forests of the Indian state of Rajasthan, a nature preserve was established to preserve the habitat of tigers. People living on the land for centuries were forced off, away from access to wood and water supplies.

Dastkar Ranthambore was established to help villagers relocate just outside the park and provide women a way to generate income.

Among their products are table coverings, placemats and bedspreads inspired by traditional animal murals found on homes. They're done using a handblocked printing technique in earth tones but also brighter blues, greens and yellows.

"The women have an open-air workshop where they work together doing embroidery and sewing," Bowers said. "They've been able to, over time, build houses and really create a sustainable living situation."

Some of their wares are available at Dolmafairtrade.com and Tenthousandvillages.com.

COFFEE

Roasting in small batches from its facility in Orange, Mass., Dean's Beans buys only shade-grown (no pesticides) coffee from villages and importers fully committed to Fair Trade. In addition, the company works on pre-financing, helping small farmers gain access to reasonable credit.

"From the consumer level, it's those details that we often forget about," Bowers said. "But for the farmers, that's really key because a lot of times they only have access to credit that is incredibly expensive, and they can't maintain a small business without it."

Among the locations where the company buys beans are some unusual ones, including East Timor and Papua New Guinea. The company also helps with a revolving loan fund to dig wells in Ethiopia, and is a partner in Leon, Nicaragua, in a cafe owned and operated by a prosthetics clinic that gives free limbs and therapy to land mine victims and the poor.