My youngest years were spent living with my family in a small cabin in the woods of New Hampshire. We had no running water, so my sisters and I would have to carry water from a nearby stream in gallon jugs. I spent most of my time playing outside where I learned how to identify many of the medicinal and edible plants that were on our land. My parents always kept a vegetable garden and I grew up living a simple life connected to nature. In our household, mutual trust, compassion, and respect were the values by which decisions were made. In order to live comfortably together, we had to learn how to share space and possessions. Although we did not have much money growing up, I was privileged by my access to good a stable home, healthy food, and good education. To me, these are necessities that everyone deserves to have, but I did not realize at the time just how few people in the world have access to these basic benefits.
Over the years I have traveled and worked abroad extensively, which has helped to deepen my understanding of resource limitation and the interconnectedness of our globalized world. As I traveled throughout the Caribbean, Asia, and Central America, I saw firsthand the social implications of limited resources. Many of the friends that I made during my travels lived without access to the resources that I had once taken for granted as basic life necessities. I saw that resources were not distributed fairly and that there was a connection between the goods that we consume here in the United States and the poverty that I saw around the world. I became fascinated with the process of tracing my consumption back to the source. I was convinced that through understanding how resources were allocated I could understand why the world around me was so unfair.
In my early adult years, my parents founded Badger. From the beginning, they instilled their personal values into the ethos of the company. They treated their workers with fairness, kindness, and respect. They made products out of healthy, food grade ingredients and they fed their employees organic lunches. During my travels and my study of economic botany, I became involved in the company peripherally. The focus of my interest in the company was in the ingredient purchasing standards and ethical supply chain management. I wanted to ensure that we had a healthy company from when the ingredients were grown all the way through to the time that product was used and the container recycled. I encouraged my parents to make connections with the farms where ingredients were grown. I wanted to be sure that we knew first hand whether or not the farmers were paid fairly and the ingredients were grown without harmful chemicals or pesticides. But I struggled with the meaning of fairness and the determination of resource allocation. We did not have the money to visit all of the farms on which our ingredients were grown, and when we did visit, we didn’t know what fair really meant.
I discovered the Fair Trade movement because I needed a way of ensuring that the ingredients we purchased would be fairly traded and that a specialized organization would work with the farmers to come to an agreement about what fair meant for them. To me, fairness is not a government handout or philanthropist’s donation. Fairness is simply access to the resources that we should all have as a human right. When I advocate for Fair Trade, I am campaigning for each one of us to consider that the world has limited resources and to understand that there are connections between the goods that we buy and the producers that made those goods. When we choose to buy a product that is fairly traded, we are choosing to support a fair allocation of resources and a community’s access to simple life necessities such as a stable home, healthy food, and good education.
Author’s note: I wrote this post back in 2007, one year after launching our first line of certified fair trade products. Badger was one of the very first companies to create fair trade certified cosmetics and, to this day, has remained closely involved in the evolution of the Fair Trade movement. Over the coming weeks, I hope to share with you some of our insights into the movement and the potential for making Fair Trade a scalable and meaningful sector of our economy.