In this episode, we are talking to Elisha Chan. Elisha is an incredible social activist, an entrepreneur about what it means to be a fair trade certified business. She's the executive director of Fair Trade Los Angeles. She also founded ElishaC, a foundation that does amazing work to help alleviate poverty in Haiti.

Fair Trade comes so much from a place of joy. It's really some kind of practical optimists, and it's very solutions-oriented. It’s like, there is this horrible problem of mass consumption, of worker exploitation and environmental degradation but Fair Trade is such a concrete solution to all of that… So, Getting people interested in fair trade together so much comes out of it. I mean look at this conference here, there’s 400 and some people, it’s loud!” Katherine Bissell Cordova

Katherine Bissell Cordova, the Executive Director of Chicago Fair Trade, the largest fair trade coalition in the United States. I met with her at the fair Trade national campaigns conference at the invitation of my guest today: Elisha Chan.

Fair Trade certified definition: What does it mean for a company to be Fair Trade?

In a nutshell, Fair Trade empowers the consumer to challenge corporations and redistribute wealth to people in need. The first experiment of fair trade on a large scale started in the 1920s in California, thanks to Edna Gleason, a pharmacist nowadays known as “the Mother of Fair Trade”. And it’s no wonder so many women take part in the fair trade movement Let’s hear from one of this woman Elisha Chan.

How did it all start?

It all started about 10 years ago now when I took my first trip to Haiti. I was already working with an orphanage there where we were sending kids to school. I just felt like I needed to do more to have a more long-term solution. How can we help Haitians not to need us anymore? How can they be self-sustaining? So it was after my seventh trip to Haiti and the earthquake that hit them and all the aftermath.

That's when I realized job creation was the key to ending their poverty. So that's how I started my business.

Why do we need more fair trade certified businesses?

In January 2018, Oxfam reported that 42 billionaires possess 50% of the world’s wealth. Some are taking action to help alleviate income inequality. Fair Trade is one example of how to make a difference. I asked Elisha if she was aware of the Fair Trade movement before she started working with artisans.

Actually, no, I didn't realize I was doing fair trade until I got involved with fair trade LA. I believe in creating fair jobs. Ending people’s exploitation is critical to give them a chance at life.

Fair Trade LA

When I found Fair Trade LA which is a non-profit based in Los Angeles. I got connected to all these community members that were basically doing what I'm doing and so passionate about it. So there are people working with artisans in Bali and Rwanda and all across the developing world. We all have the same passion to help create sustainable solutions to end poverty. I became really passionate about fair trade. I realize that is a real solution to a lot of our global issues.

Over time, the Fair Trade community has grown to 3,000 Grassroots organizations in over 70 countries. It represents over a million small-scale producers and workers.

fair trade virtual vendor fair

Fair Trade: a global movement

Yeah. So fair trade is a global movement. There is an organization called fair trade campaigns which is to encourage local cities to become fair trade towns.
So what that means is we need a hundred businesses to sell two fair trade items and a hundred Los Angeles organizations. It can be offices, schools, churches, to serve just one fair trade item and once we identify these we pass a bill at the city council and we can be declared a fair trade town.

Fair Trade LA is a membership non-profit with members just like you and me, individuals who are passionate about fair trade and also social entrepreneurs, social enterprises that are doing fair trade in the global market. We host monthly meetings. We have a great network of people and just a great supportive community for anyone who wants to advocate for fair trade.

Fair Talks

I had the idea of Fair Talks which is a play off of TED talks but specifically for Fair Trade. I wanted to bring in speakers that started their own business or working with artisans in the global market and I want them to come and share their story and raise awareness for fair trade in that way. So we've had people come share about Fair Trade coffee Farms from Guatemala. We've had people talk about sugarcane Farmers from the Dominican Republic. We even had a speaker come all the way from New York to share about fair trade fashion, which is definitely a movement that's growing right now.

How do we know a product is fair trade certified?

So some of you might be familiar with some fair trade logos that you see on coffee chocolate, even soaps. There's fair trade USA, Fair Trade America, Fair for life, and Fair Trade Federation. These certifiers actually go to your farm, your factory or your workshop to certify that things are fair trade.

There are 10 guiding fair trade principles. The certifiers want to make sure that your company meets these principles and then they certify you and so then all your products will have a fair trade logo on it and be guaranteed that this product is not exploited people that when you're enjoying this coffee or when you're enjoying this chocolate, you know that there's no child labor and people are paid fairly for it.

The 10 fair trade certified guiding principles

Some examples are:

  • artisans and producers are paid fairly.
  • artisans and producers work in a safe and healthy environment.
  • There's no child labor.
fair trade certified

How to become a fair trade advocate?

A lot of people think the only way to have an impact on social justice is either making big donations, to travel somewhere to serve locally and or teach English somewhere. They think they have to build a school, build a home somewhere.

You can actually bring about social justice, by the way, you spend your money. And that is what fair trade is about. You get to vote for your future, you get to vote for the way you want your world to be by the way you spend your money. It's as simple as buying Fair Trade coffee, it's as simple as buying something that has fair trade ingredients.

People don't realize that there are so much human trafficking and labor exploitation, child labor even in the chocolate industry. We need to fight that.

Fair trade is not just to end poverty is to end human trafficking.

And so many issues are related to poverty. We have to tackle the root of the problem and its poverty. If we create a living wage for people in poverty, I feel like we could tackle so many solutions. So I encourage people to fight social justice by what you buy every day with your purchasing power.

Fair Trade LA and Collaboration with other fair trade certified partners.

Fair Trade LA is kind of like an umbrella for a lot of our nearby towns. Los Angeles is a bigger city. It makes it a little bit harder for our work because we're so big and so spread out. We are so proud to say that Fairtrade Pasadena; Fair Trade Claremont; Fair Trade Long Beach has all been births through us. The City of Pasadena and Claremont are already a fair trade town. Long Beach is making huge momentum Leaps and Bounds to become a fair trade town very soon.

Making Los Angeles, the largest fair trade city in North America.

We want to make LA fair trade. And once we identify these businesses and organizations, we need to pass a resolution to officially have LA be not just green, not just sustainable, but also a fair trade city.

Note from the author: Since we interviewed Elisha Chan, Los Angeles has officially become the largest Fair Trade city in North America.

fair trade los angeles announcement

Next Step: The Olympic Games!

I was actually really excited to learn that the Olympics that happened in London was fair trade. And what that meant is the Olympic town was serving Fair Trade coffee and tea. It really inspires me for the upcoming Olympics in Los Angeles. We have been fighting to get the Olympics in Los Angeles. We talk about LA being a green city, a sustainable city. Now we can say we are also fighting Justice through fair trade. We need to get the Olympic towns to just serve Fair Trade coffee, Fair Trade Tea or Fair Trade sugar like that's going to make a huge difference.

Fair Trade: a movement carried by women.

So Elisha, what I noticed reading about the fair trade movement reading to get ready for this episode of Be your change podcast is that this movement seems to be carried by women. Would you agree?

Yes, if you look at our crowd and if you see, you know people who are coming, it's definitely women, but we are also really proud of the man that step in. And I think maybe that has to do with even the time that we live in, where we really encourage women entrepreneurs. We call them girl boss, you know, just really empowering women and I think that women will just be based on their compassion and just wanting to make a difference.

Now, I feel like through fair trade and through this time that we live in really gets a chance, really gets a platform to do something that they're passionate about. And yeah, I hear a lot of women come back from trips to foreign countries and want to come back and do something about it.

Did you know that women are in charge of 85% of the household budget? If we start thinking about our impact when we shop, we can have a positive outcome on people’s life. Just like that.

After interviewing Elisha Chan for Be Your Change podcast, we won’t be looking at the coffee or chocolate aisle in my local supermarket the same way ever again!

This is what I learned, listening to Elisha: it doesn’t take much to help change the world, especially if billions of us move in the same direction.

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