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Hope for the Next Generation

As Unique Batik looks for nonprofit partners to support in the regions in which we work, one of the most important attributes we seek is sustainability. Will the organization be able to work effectively not only now, but in the future to make a long term impact instead of putting a temporary band-aid on the community’s problems? One of the most impressive things about Asociacion La Libertad, or ALAS, is that they have a sustainability plan to secure the organization's future. ALAS, a nonprofit organization based in Guatemala, coordinates educational development and more for the neglected populations of Guatemala.

Students in ALAS’ educational programs contribute to the plan by working while they attend school. To launch a new school in a remote area, La Libertad must ensure that they can support the minimum number of students required by the government.  Unique Batik has funded tuition for the seven qualified students needed to reach the minimum number required and start the new school.  Once the school is established, the students will help sustain it through their work.  Through this system, not only are they creating a future for the students who come after them, they are also empowered by knowing that they can contribute to the community.

After the brutal 36-year civil war ended in in 1996, 410 refugee families were repatriated to a remote zone of the highlands of Guatemala in the Zona Reina area, to the village now known as San Antonio de Nueva Esperanza, or “New Hope.” Reconstruction began and the vision of the village elders included establishing education as a foundation for future development. With the lowest literacy rate in Latin America, especially among rural, indigenous populations, education is of paramount importance to the development of the lives of the Guatemalan poor.

Fourteen years after the initial founding of La Libertad’s educational program, which seeks to provide formal education ranging from elementary school through college, the village of San Antonio de Nueva Esperanza and its neighbors have seen over 450 people complete their education through the ninth grade. Approximately fifty students participating in extended vocational training for computers and agriculture have gone on to study at the university level. Considering the odds against them -- on average, only one out of ten rural Guatemalans completes middle school -- these figures indicate the tremendous success of ALAS.

La Libertad continues to take on challenges, including the 2010 opening of the university satellite campus of the Mariano Gálvez University, the only one in all of the Zona Reina. With this, the original vision of extending local education from the middle school to university level has been brought to fruition, but sustaining this vision takes continuous work on the part of not only ALAS, but program participants. One benefit of local university classes is that it guarantees that local teachers who want to stay in Zona Reina and expand the educational system can achieve their own necessary education to lead and inspire future students.


Unique Batik is proud to partner with ALAS in providing educational opportunities for the people of Zona Reina and San Antonio Nueva Esperanza. Through the years, the community has shown its commitment to education and La Libertad has created a program that can achieve its goals sustainably, making the vision of the founding village elders a reality that will touch generations to come.

Introduction to the Modern Maya

Once one of the most powerful civilizations in Central America, the Maya people remain an integral part of Guatemala. The rise of the Maya civilization began thousands of years ago and spread across what it now southern Mexico all the way to modern day Honduras. The Maya civilization lasted longer than any other Mesoamerican culture that came to power in the area, and as a result, traces of the culture remain very much alive even today.

Today, there are about six million Maya living in Central America. Although they have relatively modern lives, most still live a lifestyle that is distinct from that of Guatemalans descended from a European heritage. Instead of Spanish, the official language of Guatemala, most Maya speak primarily  indigenous languages, of which there are 22, each reflective of a disparate regional heritage. Because the Maya civilization was so widespread geographically, various dialects evolved into unique languages over time.

Many Maya women, in particular, may not speak fluent Spanish at all. Growing up in Maya households and, unfortunately, likely not to have attended school where the Spanish language would be taught, women and girls speak only their indigenous language. Only 48% of indigenous women are literate in Spanish. This language barrier contributes to many disadvantages including inequality in the labor force, limited access to adequate health care, and exclusion from the legal system. Unique Batik works primarily with indigenous women, seeking to create income and the possibility of an education for those who would otherwise have little to no opportunity.

A history of craftsmanship is still seen in the beautiful handicrafts of Maya people today. Although their work has evolved to take in new influences, assimilate them, and in some cases become something entirely new, a reflection of Mayan history remains in carving, painting, textiles, and more. Considering today’s prevalence of beaded jewelry, it may surprise many to learn that although weaving has been an integral part of Mayan culture for centuries, the introduction of small glass beads and the subsequent creation of woven beaded jewelry did not occur until quite recently. Since the introduction of the tiny glass bead, women in Guatemala have used their traditional weaving skills to create a wide range of jewelry designs, which have become quite popular in the marketplace.

Weaving holds a position of high importance in Maya culture, not only as a handicraft tradition,but as a religious and social tradition. Ixchel, goddess of the moon, has a special connection to women. She is represented with weaving implements in her headdress, and is said to have taught the first woman how to weave. The tradition is passed from woman to daughter, and has been for centuries. Weaving is a social activity, as well; with the portable backstrap loom, women can weave virtually anywhere. Historically, it is one of the only sources of income available primarily to women. Maya women take great pride in their weaving skills, as can be seen in the amazing textiles that come from the region.


At Unique Batik, we strive to sustain both ancient and new traditions of Mayan handicrafts through marketing these special products to buyers across the globe. Having spent many years traveling to Guatemala and the heart of the Maya culture, not only observing its beauty, but learning about it personally through friendships and long term partnerships with our artisans, we recognize both the beauty of the Maya peoples and the struggle that they face. Through fair trade, we hope to preserve the one and alleviate the other.

Reducing Impact, Recycling Inspiration

In today’s struggle to preserve the earth for future generations, the inclusion of people in developing countries is more important than ever. Not only are those in developing countries more at risk for health problems caused by environmental factors, without their participation in taking measures to combat environmental problems, there is little chance of seeing real change. As fair trade producers operating within the principles of fair trade as defined by the World Fair Trade Organization, Unique Batik is committed to using materials sourced sustainably, minimizing waste, and using production techniques that reduce environmental impact.

Environmental risk factors across the globe are “greatest for the poor and vulnerable populations in developing countries,” says the WHO’s Health and Environment Linkages Initiative. This brings an even greater sense of urgency to our need to not only stop environmental impact but to reverse it. For example, deforestation, one of the greatest environmental issues in Guatemala, is both exacerbated by the poor rural populations who must make use of whatever resources they can find, and puts them at risk for further tragedy such as the 2005 landslides that killed more than 1500 people. In order to prevent the continued disappearance of Guatemala’s forest, there must be other employment options for its people.

Fair trade seeks to create employment opportunities that offer not only the financial means to preserve the environment, but to do it in a way that is intentional in reducing the impact of productions. Outside of the production of our crafts, Unique Batik also participates in other environmental initiatives. There is the everyday, such as recycling at our home office in Raleigh, NC, and riding our bikes to work. There is also the truly inspired, such as a project in Guatemala that takes mundane trash such as the plastic bags and wrappers and the ubiquitous plastic water bottle, and turns them into eco bricks that are donated to build homes for the poor. With little infrastructure in the rural area of Lake Atitlan, there is trash but nowhere to put it other than scattered about the ground in otherwise picturesque villages (at worst) or in a giant pile on the mountainside (at best). By stuffing the bags and wrappers into the plastic bottles until they become sturdy and solid, the bottles can then be used as “bricks” in building adobe homes and other structures.

Despite the many challenges to environmental sustainability in developing countries, in some ways their people could teach those in the Global North a lot about reducing, repurposing, and recycling. The people with whom we work are masters of recycling -- wasting almost nothing. Some of the recycled materials they use include: textiles, metal, plastic, and glass. These recycling techniques may be as straightforward as using recycled glass bottles to make glass beads or as whimsical as making bangles out of broken guitar strings. We at Unique Batik are proud to work with artisans whose creativity and ingenuity can rescue items that would otherwise go to waste and instead transform them into beautiful and useful products. Somehow, it seems appropriate that in a fair trading relationship, inspiration and knowledge are not a one-way thing. It is through working together that we can make an impact for good, both on the lives of producers and on this world we all share.

Tres Estrellas: A Story of Transformation

One of the most beautiful things about fair trade is the way it transforms things. It transforms people who have oppression into people who have opportunity. It transforms beggars into businessmen. It transforms kids on the street into kids in the classroom. And sometimes, with a little creativity, it turns trash into treasure.

Take the humble guitar string. People have been playing guitars (or guitar-like instruments) for over three thousand years, and steel strings have been in use since around 1900. If you’ve ever played a guitar, you know how frequently the strings break or have to be replaced, but have you ever thought about what happens to those strings when they are discarded? Are they recycled, do they end up in a landfill, or what? One Unique Batik artisan group is transforming recycled guitar strings into fun bracelets, bangles, and rings, and in the process, they are creating not just jewelry, but jobs.

Tres Estrellas, located in the Canton Pujujil region on the edge of Lake Atitlán, was founded in 1995 in response to the dire poverty of the people in the region. Or, as co-founder, Juan Par, put it, “so that people would not die of hunger.” The Guatemalan Civil War, which began in 1960, plagued the country for more than thirty years. The Maya people were particularly targeted by government death squads, forced disappearances, and a scorched earth policy. After decades of war and hundreds of thousands of lives lost, it is no surprise that rebuilding has been a long and arduous process.

Many Maya women were left widowed by the war, desperate to find ways to feed and care for their families. Today, most of the young women in the Tres Estrellas artisan group are children of widows. The group is made up of thirteen women, ages 22 - 45 years old. When there is not enough work making jewelry, the women supplement their income making traditional baskets, but because there is so much competition in the basket market, their income from selling baskets is about half of what they can earn making jewelry with the group. Group leader Juan and his wife, Maria, design and develop the products and provide training and technical assistance to the other group members. Juan has been a hard worker since he was a child working in the coffee and cotton fields with his father, and is grateful that this employment has allowed him to provide for his family and educate his eight children.


The biggest challenge for the group is to create enough work for the artisans, who are still struggling to rebuild their lives and their community in the aftermath of such a long and brutal war. With each unique guitar ring and bracelet that they make, they get a little closer to that long awaited dream. We hope that you will love our Unique Batik guitar jewelry not only because it is funky and cool and old-into-new, but because you want to be a part of transforming struggle into success. Together, we can do it - one string at a time.

Artisan Spotlight: Carmelita Ramos

Sparkling beads dance across her hands as Carmelita Ramos creates earrings and bracelets to sell to customers in the distant land of the United States. Her dreams of earning a living and educating her children were once just as distant, but through her work and creativity and her connection with fair trade, those dreams have become a reality. Carmelita’s story did not begin so differently from that of many, many other women in Guatemala. Being able to sell her handicrafts to a fair trade company like Unique Batik has given her the hand up -- not handout -- that changed the course of her life.

Born into a family of thirteen children in the rural mountain village of San Jorge in the department of Solola, Carmelita’s challenges in life started early. None of the girls in her family were sent to school. This is still true for many girls in Guatemala; of the two million children who do not attend school, most are indigenous girls living in rural areas. In fact, 90% of these girls do not attend secondary school. Carmelita was no exception.

With no education, Carmelita’s options were few. She became a maid at a young age, which is a typical path, with 98% of domestic workers being women and 70% of domestic workers being indigenous Maya. However, Carmelita’s story took a turn when, through her employers, she began making jewelry to sell for export. She immediately showed promise as a designer, creating an original bracelet featuring bamboo and making oven mitts out of scrap fabric. For her first significant order, she received a paycheck of Q1200 (the equivalent of $150 US dollars).  It brought tears to her eyes because she had never seen a Q100 note.

Carmelita’s creativity and ingenuity have been a big factor in her success as an artisan. Now part of a jewelry making cooperative of eleven people, all family members, Carmelita sources the beading materials herself and trains co-op members how to make new jewelry designs. Unlike many other artisans in the area, when Carmelita’s group creates exclusive new designs for a customer, they do not sell them to anyone else. The group members work from their own homes, but confer on pricing, production, and any other issues that might come up.

Today, not only has Carmelita’s story defied expectations, but her leadership of the artisan co-op has influenced the lives of many others. Her own daughter, Maria, has graduated with a degree in business administration.  She has partially paid for her education and transportation to school through part-time work making beaded jewelry with the artisan co-op. Another group member, Marta, has five children, for whom Marta desperately wanted an education. Her husband did not support her dream, but through her earnings as an artisan, all of Marta’s children have gone to school.  Since the time her jewelry work began, Carmelita and her husband, Juan, have gone from living with her mother-in-law to buying their own land and building a two-story cement block house -- an extraordinary accomplishment for a woman who started with no education and no means.

The journey has not been without its challenges. Competition in the area is fierce for beaders, keeping their wages low. There is even a “bead mafia” which controls the availability of beads, so Carmelita’s group is not always able to source the colors they need. US buyers are not always reliable, and it is the long-term, fair trade relationship with Unique Batik that has made a difference in the success of Carmelita’s group. Ten years ago, a US buyer placed a big order for beaded jewelry from women in Carmelita’s village, then pulled out without paying the women for their work. A mutual acquaintance gave Carmelita Unique Batik owner Sharon Gale’s phone number. Carmelita called Sharon for help, and that began the relationship between Unique Batik and Carmelita’s cooperative.

Carmelita’s talent as a designer is special, but without the opportunities created by fair trade purchases, even with all her hard work and creativity, the story might not have such a happy ending. Given the opportunity to be treated with integrity and turn her gifts into a secure life for her family, Carmelita has transformed her own narrative. Thanks for being part of her happy ending!

Las Mujeres de Panabaj: Working Together to Rebuild

One

For indigenous women in the villages on the banks of beautiful Lake Atitlan, life is not always as picturesque as their placid surroundings. Although many of the villages in the Lake Atitlan region are renowned for their form of handicrafts, or artesania, earning a sustainable, living wage through sales of these handicrafts -- no matter how unique or well-made -- presents many challenges. The thousands of tourists who visit the region each year don't make it to every small village, and even if they did, competition for craft sales is fierce. It takes more than crafting skills to be a successful artisan. For the artisan group Mujeres Panabaj, working together as a cooperative instead of trying to make it as individual artisans has been the key to success.


Founded in 1996, Mujeres Panabaj, is a cooperative of women artisans in Santiagotwo Atitlan. The group started out as “Arte Indigena T’zutujil”, a name reflective of the T’zutujil Maya people who founded their village of Panabaj and that of nearby Tzanchaj, and whose culture and language are prevalent even today. The group has faced a long and sometimes arduous road to their current success. One of the most tragic times they faced was in October, 2005 when a mudslide triggered by the heavy rains from Hurricane Stan struck, leaving an estimated 600 of the 3,000 villagers dead or missing, and those who escaped with little more than the clothes they were wearing. Many of the artisan group lost their husbands, children, and houses.


threeAt the time, it seemed uncertain whether Panabaj would even be rebuilt. Many people were relocated to government housing in settlement further east, but despite the efforts of the government, the call of their ancestral home brought back most of the villagers to rebuild. Now the town looks much as it did before the catastrophe, although those who survived will never forget those they lost. In honor of their village, the group became ‘Las Mujeres de Panabaj’. Donations from Unique Batik and others provided the women with looms and materials to start working again, and a grant from another organization provided them with money to rebuild their workshop and store.


Today, Las Mujeres de Panabaj provides a regular, viable income for the twenty members, ages 25 - 40. The fourmembers only earn money through their artesania, and the group is run very democratically, with a legal board of directors that changes every two years. Their weaving and jewelry making allow the women who, as T’zutujil Maya, speak little to no Spanish, to support their families despite this disadvantage in the Guatemalan business world. The women can earn approximately $6.50 a day, which in the local economy is a fair price for their work. Artisans are paid promptly, every fifteen days. The group also helps those who want to pursue furthering their education; a few women have received scholarships to go to high school. The group is not limited to its original members, but accepts and trains new members, who are taught the beading and weaving techniques, making jewelry and products woven on a flat loom, such as belts.

Unique Batik purchases woven belts, geo and animal wallets, and Christmas ornaments from Las Mujeres de Panabaj. We are proud to bring their meticulously crafted and vibrant artesania to our customers in the U.S. When you buy these items, you are ensuring that the strong women of Panabaj are not only surviving their challenges, but thriving in the face of adversity.

guitar strap


Guatemala’s Beautiful Lake Atitlan, Part 2

Lake Atitlan

Picturesque volcanic Lake Atitlan is home to many Unique Batik artisans. This mountainous region is rich with Maya cultural traditions and handicrafts and has more to offer visitors than just its promise of beautiful vistas and eternally spring-like weather. The small villages that surround this huge body of water, formed in a caldera millions of years ago, are as captivating as anything the scenery can boast.

San Juan

San Juan la Laguna, located on the western shore of Lake Atitlan, is a quiet, clean village of about 8,000 residents.  Off the beaten (tourist) path, its resulting relaxed atmosphere allows visitors to get away from the bustle of the city and experience the genuine friendliness of the indigenous Guatemalan people. This charming village is renowned for its painting, and boasts talented oil painters and several street murals. There is also a women’s coop of weavers who use only hand-gathered natural dyes, keeping centuries-old traditions alive.

Ana

Across the lake, on the eastern shore is San Antonio Palopo, one of the oldest lake settlements and well known for its handmade majolica style pottery. Historically, each village has had its own distinguishing style of dress, or traje, and that of San Antonio Palopo features striped tops for both men and women. In this traditional village, it is not unusual to see people wearing this style of clothing even today. San Antonio Palopo also offers terrific views of the lake -- one can enjoy the vista as well as a completely unique view by hiking to the top of the village and the ancient terraced onion fields found there.

San Juan Spinners

The village of Santa Clara la Laguna offers a completely different experience; located high in the mountains among miles of coffee plantations and forest, it is home to the famous Rosto de la Maya overlook. Seen from below, Rosto de la Maya or ‘Face of the Maya’ looks like a face in profile; from the overlook itself one can see the entire lake, and on a clear day, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. In Santa Clara la Laguna, making baskets is part of the traditional culture of the town because the baskets were historically used during the coffee harvest. Now, basket weaving also brings in income from craft sales, and there is a cooperative specializing in different styles of cane baskets for export.

San Antonio Pottery

The craft traditionse Lake Atitlan region are directly tied to history both ancient and modern. Whether artisans create because it is an integral part of their culture that must be passed down from generation to generation, or whether their skills were imported along with the many expatriates who are drawn to this enchanting region, the value of handcrafting is embraced and celebrated. Clareños make baskets and San Antonio Palopo is the place to find pottery. Each village around Lake Atitlan is unique, seeped in its own special Maya language, dress, and traditions. It could take a lifetime to explore them all, and it would be a lifetime well spent.

Guatemala’s Beautiful Lake Atitlan, Part 1

Last week, we introduced artisan Diego Ravenal, who started his jewelry business selling his wares at a booth catering to tourists. Tourism is Guatemala’s third largest source of income, with its main attractions being archeological sites of Mayan culture, the colonial city of Antigua, and beautiful Lake Atitlan, where Diego and his family live and work.


Lake Atitlan 1Many of our artisans work in the region of Lake Atitlan, which is a huge volcanic lake in the Guatemalan highlands. Lake Atitlan is fifty square miles in area, and its thirty-one miles of coastline are surrounded by myriad villages, each unique. Famous travelers including writer Aldous Huxley and German explorer Alexander von Humboldt have described it as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, and anyone who has seen its expanse of pacific blue waters reflecting the looming volcanic mountains that etch out its perimeter would have to agree. A three hour bus ride from Guatemala City, Lake Atitlan is a popular tourist destination with both local and foreign tourists, who come for the scenic beauty and the cultural interest found in its surrounding villages.

                    

There are seven main villages surrounding Lake Atitlan, with Panajachel being the most easily accessible and the launching point for most visits. Panajachel, or “Pana” as it is affectionately called, may not be the most beautiful of the villages, but with its amenities and panoramic view of the lake, it’s the perfect base camp for a visit to the region. On Calle Santander, you will find cybercafes, a wide variety of restaurants, travel agencies, and plenty of handicrafts. All of the international visitors make Pana a somewhat cosmopolitan oasis in an otherwise rural area.

Louisa and her mom

                                                                             Louisa and her mom

Across the lake from Panajachel, you will find Santiago Atitlan, the largest of the lake communities. Santiago Atitlan is predominantly populated by indigenous Maya and there you will find strong ties to the Maya life, including women dressed in the traditional striped skirts and embroidered blouses, or huipils. Traditionally, each village in Guatemala had its own style of embroidery and dress, and you could easily recognize someone by their garb, but the younger generation of women simply wear what they like, regardless of their village. Santiago Atitlan is known for its handicrafts and for the shrine of Maximón, a folk saint venerated by Maya people.

Elena          Carmen and Carmalita

                                                                Elena                           Carmen & Carmalita

The village of Santa Catarina Palopo, two and a half miles south of Pana, is smaller and less visited by tourists. Those who visit enjoy the very pretty Santa Catarina Palopo Church, nestled at the foot of the mountain. Although the market is smaller than those of Panajachel or Santiago Atitlan, it is known for its exquisite handicrafts, especially for weaving. For the truly adventurous, a day hike from Pana to Santa Catarina Palopo and a return in the back of a pickup truck can be a fun day away from the tourist scene.

vendedora

                                                                                    vendedora

Just as one visit to Lake Atitlan could never be enough to enjoy all it has to offer, we can’t possibly describe it in once post. Next week, look for more on why so many visitors have fallen in love with this unique spot in Guatemala...

Lake Atitlan

                                                                                              village overlooking the lake

Artisan Spotlight: Diego Ravinal

Everything old is new again, right? At its best, fashion takes classics that have been around for ages, and spins them into something new right before our eyes. Oscar de la Renta, Rachel Roy, Nicole Miller, and several other designers showed pearls for Spring 2014, but these weren’t your granny’s pearls. While pearls have an elegant, classic aesthetic, they take on a cool, young edge when mixed with more casual pieces.


At Unique Batik, we are always looking for ways to translate fun fresh trends into our handcrafted jewelry and bags, so we’re pleased to bring you the Pearl Circus Necklace and Pearl Circus 2 Strand as a great way to incorporate the pearl micro trend into your spring and summer wardrobe. These subtly dramatic pearl necklaces are created for us by the same family of artisans that makes our delightful Circus collection of jewelry, as well as our Rock Candy and Trapeze collections.

Pearl Circus


Led by artisan Diego Ravinal and based in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, the group is made up of Diego, his four sisters, and his brother-in-law. When their father died thirteen years ago, Diego had to abandon his education, leaving school to work and support the family. Diego was able to get a bank loan of Q3500 (the equivalent of $450) and set up a stall on one of the main streets in town, near the beach. There, he sold jewelry and other trinkets to tourists, as the town in which he lives is on a beautiful volcanic lake and is a popular vacation spot. Although doing business this way was enough to get by, Diego was unable to grow his business until he could find a wholesale buyer.

DiegoLake Atitlan

When Diego connected with Sharon and started making jewelry for Unique Batik, he was able to generate enough work for all four of his sisters. Diego’s family has not had the opportunity for much education -- both his mother and three of his sisters are illiterate and not all of them are able to speak Spanish fluently. This means that income generating opportunities are few and far between. Their work making jewelry allows them to contribute to the prosperity of the family, and gives them a voice in decision making. When making decisions about pay and production, the group dialogues and decides together.

ChonaElanaMariaDiego's Kids

Diego is proud of his work; he has created his own designs, and when people come to his stall and admire his jewelry, saying it is unique, it gives him energy to continue creating. He has also continued his education, going to school in the afternoons, and is only one class away from completing his studies and getting his diploma. In the six years of working together with his family he has built a successful business and now dreams of growing that business and building his own home in Santiago. Sure, it’s the same dream that people have had for generations...but some things never go out of style.




Fair Trade Principles: No Forced or Child Labor

It might surprise you to learn that there are more people enslaved today than there were at the height of the U.S. slave industry -- more than at any other time in human history. Although it is difficult to track, since human trafficking is a hidden business, the Walk Free Foundation estimates that there are over 29 million people being held in slavery across the globe today. Slavery is defined as being forced to work through fraud, threat of violence, for no pay.


Although the rates of slavery are highest in Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe, it happens in every country in the world. In the U.S., there are an estimated 60,000 people being held in slavery, many of them illegal immigrants. Something all of these populations have in common is that the workers are made more vulnerable by high rates of poverty, unemployment, and discrimination. Women everywhere are more at risk than men, as are children. Eighty percent of transnational trafficking victims are women, and fifty percent of them are children.


The commercial sex industry is rampant with forced labor, and sadly, many men, women and children are trafficked into just such situations. However, not all trafficking is sex trafficking; many people are held through debt bondage as migrant farm workers, laborers, or in domestic servitude. One industry with the most rampant abuse of forced child labor is that of chocolate production, with an estimated 200,000 children working in cacao fields in the Ivory Coast alone.


How does buying fair trade fight human trafficking? According to the WFTO, one of the principles of fair trade is that there is no forced or child labor involved. When you see an organization labeled fair trade, you can know that they have ensured that no forced labor and no child labor is involved in the production of their goods. When you see a food or beverage labeled fair trade, you can know that none of the farm workers were children or forced laborers. For example, if you want to continue enjoying chocolate, and you find it bothers you to think that your Hershey bar was produced by enslaved children, you can make your next chocolate purchase fair trade chocolate and feel good about that choice.


Another important way fair trade fights human trafficking is that is creates sustainable employment opportunities for at risk populations. Poverty is a huge risk factor for victims of trafficking. People who are desperate for work leave their villages and go to the big city or even other countries to find jobs, and instead, they find themselves cheated and trapped. People who are desperate to feed their families send their children away under the belief that they will be cared for, they will be educated, they will be able to work for a while and send money back to their families and return safely. Instead, their children are forced to labor on cocoa plantations with machetes in the hot sun.


Fair trade work is done by fairly paid adults, who are paid enough to support their families, educate their children, and live lives of dignity and respect. When you choose to pay a little bit more for a bar of chocolate that is labeled fair trade, you choose to prevent child slavery. When you buy a handmade bag made by fairly paid artisans, instead of one made by laborers in a sweatshop, you choose to prevent forced labor. Human trafficking may sound like a far away problem, but it is not unrelated to our choices. The things we buy and the things we consume are paid for by us, or by those who are exploited to create them.