In its quest to improve its image and gain new customers, Wal-Mart has ventuered into organic food, energy saving appliances, and now, Fair Trade. That’s right, Wal-Mart is selling Fair Trade goods. They have decided to pay people a fair wage for the products they produce and supply to the mega-store. Wal-Mart is starting with Fair Trade coffee, but if it sells well, maybe they’ll move into other fair trade goods, like clothes, food, paper products, you name it. Maybe they’ll learn that it’s nice to pay people a living wage for the work they do, and pay everyone fairly! Fair Trade products are often no more expensive than their non-Fair Trade counterparts. The difference is that the people who made your stuff have a chance to improve their lives and communities.
Fair Trade goods are not only made with the producer in mind, but the environment as well. You can be sure that your fair trade coffee wasn’t first drenched with pesticides, and your clothes will be made from organic materials. This is also better for the workers, since a lot of the stuff we buy are produced in countries with fewer worker protection standards in place than in the U.S.
While this is nice, David Nassar of the Organic Consumers Associations suggests “If Wal-Mart wants to ensure that producers of coffee are paid a living wage, it should show the same concern for people who produce the 139,000 other products that they sell at the store.” And, Beth Maxwell of American Rights at Work points out that “consumers who want to respect workers’ rights around the world have helped create a demand for fair-trade products, but Wal-Mart should know that the same consumers also care about how companies treat their workers in the U.S. as well.” Wal-Mart is aggressively pursuing the 5 goals set by H. Lee Scott, but a lot of consumers are still demanding more.
Wal-Mart’s pursuit of Fair Trade is great, but more is required before Wal-Mart becomes a responsible member of society.