Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Random Website, Subject: Fair Trade

Today's website of the day comes from my friend Chew Kuek. A group of us were having drinks last night and I finally got to ask him about his new non-profit, Village Exchange.

It's based on the concept of fair trade, which, if you haven't heard of by now, you should've. Basically, fair trade involves allowing people from poorer nations the chance to market their goods in 'developed' countries for more than just pennies, but cutting out many of the large middlemen (*cough*WALMART*cough*). I find it kind of exciting because it deals with all aspects of the market chain - and with all the US' emphasis on the making economies - not social provisions - grow, it sets out to beat the conservatives at their own game. Right now the arena seems to focus on chocolate, tea, coffee and craft type items, but it's growing. If you've ever shopped at 10,000 villages, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Obviously, the idea is a lot more complicated than that (for more information, check out Chew's explanation on his webpage:, but you get the idea. As development students, we're asked to study this alot. I'm not as intimately familiar with all the ins and outs of the industry, but what I am is excited that one of my friends has decided to use it as a tool to make a difference.

Chew told me that he and his partner started this non-profit (based in Singapore) to raise awareness for the issue of fair trade in their home country. Essentially, they market fair trade goods to Singaporean businesses. Rather than create their own supply chains - difficult to do with a new organization - they use other, more established chains created through reputable orgs like the Fair Trade Labelling Organization.

I think the idea is brilliant. I told Chew I would go home right then and order something from him for my sister's birthday. He laughed and said "Well, it would ship from Singapore, so you'd be better to go to 10,000 villages (in Bethesda!)!"

What I can do for Chew is post a blog, raising awareness for him and the other fair trades out there. I urge you to do your own thinking and ruminating on the subject - there is quite a huge debate in development circles - and both sides have merit, I think, to some extent. (For example, StarBucks has done alot in marketing fair trade coffee, but there is some question as to whether (and how much of) the price hike to $9.99 for the pound of fair trade coffee beans actually trickles down to the farmers in Kenya/Tanzania/Malawi/etc.

In the end, whether or not you choose to buy fair trade is up to you. Anyway, that's today's website of the day - and public service announcement.

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