Q&A with Nathan George of Trade as One

Inspiring Interview with Founder of Trade as One

02/22/2011 - 5:32 PM

This week we were lucky enough to interview Nathan George, Founder of Trade as One. His organization uses Fair Trade to promote sustainable business and break cycles of poverty and dependency in the developing world. In support of it's name sake, the organization encourages you to spend your dollars in ways that conciously and directly link you to a positive story of hope and change for workers across the globe. To be mindful of our purchases and to use them for the good of another is what it means to Trade as One.

Please enjoy Nathan George's inspiring words and thoughtful insight on the world of Fair Trade.

How did you get involved in Fair Trade?  Why is it important to you on a personal level?

I first got involved in Fair Trade when I was living in the UK with my family. As a business person passionate about the use of enterprise to alleviate poverty, I got to know Paul Chandler, the CEO of the largest Fair Trade company in the UK, Traidcraft. Through his challenges to me, and those of others working in this area, my wife and I visited about 25 businesses on the front lines of extreme poverty, human trafficking and HIV / AIDS. I was completely amazed at the difference between an aid-based donor approach to poverty alleviation and the enterprise, job-creation approach. It’s a long story, but my wife and I eventually moved our family from the UK to California to start Trade as One because we were so excited by the potential of what we saw in America to have a large impact for the global poor through influencing consumer spending.  At a personal level it is important to me because my work draws together for me the important strands of my life – my beliefs as a person of faith, my experience as a businessman, and my passions as an individual to do something about the crisis of poverty in the developing world and the crisis of meaning in the West.

What is your favorite Fair Trade story?

I have so many ‘favorite’ stories from women finding jobs after being releasedfrom human trafficking, to people having dignified jobs in their rural villages that allow them to not have to contemplate migrating to the urban slums. One my favorites is from the T Shirts that we sell. A study showed that over a period of ten years, about 100,000 small scale cotton farmers in India committed suicide because they see no way out. We work with HAE Now who give these small scale farmers a good income, allow them to practice organic farming and produce high quality Ts. We then get them screen printed at a social venture in San Francisco that works with at risk youth recovering from poverty, substance abuse and homelessness in the city. I love the fact that the story is both global and local, and that the messages that the T Shirts carry are worn by people who then spread the word about a different way to think about how products are sourced.

Do you think American consumers' attitudes regarding consumerism are starting to shift?  

One thing I have noticed recently is that Fair Trade used to be seen as a leftist, liberal, anti-big-business movement, and that is changing. There is a growing awareness that conscious consumption, compassionate capitalism and corporate social responsibility are not liberal, leftist-leaning concepts, but they actually make a whole ton of sense and can be fully embraced, not just paid lip-service to, by large and successful companies. At an individual level, partly driven by increased awareness of global issues, partly by economic stress, American consumers are becoming increasingly aware that the approach of getting as much as you can for as little as possible is a highly caustic way to behave in a world of limited resources. There is a lot more willingness to consider buying better, buying less and buying responsibly. I travel a lot all over the country and what encourages me more than anything is the desire I see in American consumers to do the right thing. As I read all of the stories of revolution in the Middle East, I dare to wonder if there could be a consumer revolution where people say “not in my name will you use slavery in the supply chain of the products I need.” “Not in my name will you offer me a product that should cost $20 at $10 because you dumped toxic waste somewhere to produce it and ‘externalized’ environmental and social costs.” I think if there was transparency to the consumer of the true cost of the products they bought, fair trade would be nearly universally demanded because people want to do the right thing.

What is your favorite Fair Trade Certified product?

One of the things that we realized is that it is often difficult to get hold of our favorite Fair Trade products through regular stores, and people who want to be committed to fair trade but find the availability and choice too limiting to build more than just one or two products into their regular lives. So last September we launched our Hungry for Change program that delivers a box of Fair Trade products to people’s doorsteps every month. We find what is available – from rice to honey, olive oil, soap, herbs, quinoa, sugar and deliver about $30 worth of different products every month. Customers get to experience the wide variety of products, read the stories behind them, get recipes and engage in the Fair Trade movement. It’s kind of like the Community Supported Agriculture concept where you pick up your locally grown produce from your local farm, or a wine club where wines are shipped to you every month. We have been delighted with the response to the program which is becoming an increasingly important part of what we are doing at Trade as One.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell the Fair Trade community?

Let’s accept the fact that this is a broad tent. Our goal is to activate the consciences of consumers so that they make responsible choices that result in dignified jobs for some of the most disadvantaged people in our world. There is room for big business in this. In fact I would say that without its involvement, we will totally fail. There is room for passionate religious groups, atheists, people in suits and people in tie-died Indian cotton. There is room for crafts, consumables, maybe even factory-produced furniture one day. We are fighting for a noble cause. Let’s just remember that the enemy is ignorance and apathy in the consumer, not ideological differences in how to achieve our goal.

We at Fair Trade USA applaud Trade as One's efforts to employ Fair Trade as a model to alleviate both extreme poverty and thoughtless consumerism.  Watch this video to learn more:

 

02/22/2011 - 5:32 PM
02/22/2011 - 5:32 PM