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Charity of the Month | Fair Trade LA

by Sica Schmitz | Posted on March 01 2017

So, what exactly is fair trade? That's one of the answers that this month's Charity of the Month is trying to help you know. 

This month we are giving back a portion of each sale to Fair Trade LA (FTLA), a membership nonprofit organization that includes individuals, businesses, university and student groups, faith-based communities, and non-profit organizations. Bead & Reel has been a member for the past 2 years. 

They have an ambitious goal: to make Los Angeles the largest Fair Trade city in the U.S. So far they have successfully established two Fair Trade cities (Pasadena and Claremont) and have three more are in the works. Beyond just cities, they are working to create fair trade colleges/universities (congrats to Pomona, Loyola Marymount, UCLA, and Cal Lutheran University!) and are also working towards Fair Trade high schools and elementary schools too. They have even successfully established five Fair Trade congregations and have more on the way. 

Charity of the Month: Fair Trade LA coffee

They are committed "to insuring that the Fair Trade movement spreads as deeply and as widely as possible, joining with the efforts of those involved throughout the United States and internationally." They focus on all Fair Trade products from food to fashion to home goods. 

I spoke to Executive Director and co-founder Joan Harper about all things Fair Trade, and how we can all get involved.

But first, what is Fair Trade?

Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. Fair Trade means:

  • Equality, respect, and sustainability at all levels of society.
  • Poverty in developing countries is addressed by offering alternatives to sweatshop employment.
  • Indigenous artisans, workers and farmers develop sustainable livelihoods in their traditional rural environments through worker-owned cooperatives and family farms.
  • Farmers and artisans can develop skills to manage their enterprises.
  • Sustainable wages are paid in a local context.
  • Safe, humane working conditions.
  • Fair and prompt payments
  • The promotion of equity in world trade.
  • Children are protected from exploitation.
  • Environmental stewardship is cultivated and cultural identity is respected.


What's your favorite part of being involved in Fair Trade LA?

There are really two parts: first the incredible people who commit themselves to the promotion of Fair Trade in general and Fair Trade LA (FTLA) in particular. And second, I just have to believe we are all playing an important role in helping people around the world live a better life.

How can our customers help make Los Angeles a Fair Trade city?

They can help us find businesses in LA that sell two Fair Trade items (products will have a certification label) and find organizations in LA that support Fair Trade by offering/serving one Fair Trade item.

How our customers outside of Los Angeles make their own city a Fair Trade city?

They can start by talking to us at FTLA about what makes a city Fair Trade and then get our help to make this happen. There are five criteria and after building a committee the work focuses on finding businesses in that city that sell at least two Fair Trade items and organizations that serve or offer one Fair Trade product to its members. Then the city council passes a resolution, supporting being a Fair Trade city. They can also visit

Fair Trade Flowers

What first made you interested in Fair Trade?

My ah-ha moment was after years of doing social justice I learned about Fair Trade from Catholic Relief Services and realized the impact I could have on someone’s life just by changing my purchasing habits. Simple!

What's the easiest step to start moving into a more Fair Trade lifestyle?

Decide what you purchase that is also available as a Fair Trade product – then buy it!   Again and again! Then buy more varied Fair Trade products. Then tell your friends.

Do you have a favorite uplifting story/experience that you can share about something special that has happened at or because of Fair Trade LA?

Three Catholics, an atheist and a Jew sat at my kitchen table 12 years ago. We didn’t all know each other but we all knew and cared about Fair Trade. We spent that afternoon musing about who else besides the five of us felt the same. And so we went out and talked to people, anyone and everyone who would listen. Eventually we had a strong group of committed “Fair Traders” who were helping spread the word. Seeds were planted. And so today we have two Fair Trade cities and two others getting close, four Fair Trade Colleges/Universities and more on the horizon, and over a dozen Fair Trade congregations. Fair Trade LA exemplifies Margaret Mead’s profound words: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” We are grateful at FTLA for all the farmers and artisans around the world who challenge us daily to ‘Buy Fair. Live Fair!’

Fair Trade Pineapples

What is a biggest misconception you hear about Fair Trade, and what's the truth about it?

I think it is that Fair Trade costs more.   Many times Fair Trade items don’t cost more, if you are buying similar quality (i.e. organic shade grown coffee that has a great taste). Cost is usually the same. But if something seems to cost more, the truth is we have to ask ourselves what is the “true cost” of something. Do we factor in the cost of the global worker who works in sweatshop conditions, gets paid pennies and can’t feed his or her family? Do we factor in the pain and suffering of people who have to leave their country and come here without documentation to eke out a living and support their family back home? Do we factor in the cost of human trafficking because people who can’t find sustainable work are told lies about new work opportunities they are being offered if they move to another country? If something seems ‘too cheap,’ it is and someone is paying for it.

What's your favorite inspiring quote?

"Every time you spend money you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want to live in." ~ Anna Lappe

Want to become a member? You can join here!


  • Elisha Chan: March 13, 2017

    Thank you Sica for breaking down what fair trade is and how simple it is to live a more fair lifestyle. Thank you Joan for directing Fair Trade LA and making a difference State side and internationally!

  • Jane Affonso: March 11, 2017

    Thank you Joan for showing us the interconnection between fair trade and labor, immigration and human trafficking concerns. Thank you Sica for making it easy for us to buy fair trade. I love your blog.

  • Lynn Fadale: March 05, 2017

    Great article, Sica. Thanks for helping to make people more aware of what fair trade is and giving our great organization some recognition. I look forward to working with you in the future.

    Lynn Fadale, FTLA Board Member

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