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Can we trade fair?

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Love those colors! From here.
Brand loyalty is a dangerous thing. Take Apple, for example. I've loved Apple ever since they came
out with those candy-colored desktops ages ago. Who would have known then that innovations like the iPod and iPhone would entrench Apple even further into our daily existence. But on top of its amazingly intuitive products, it has always felt like Apple is selling something more - a lifestyle - that so many people identify with. Maybe it's their great taste in music or their great design asthetic, but Apple is seen as smart, modern, cool and visionary -- pretty much what everyone aspires to be.

The dangerous part? When you find out the company you identify with has some shady skeletons in the closet. The Times was the first to blow Apple's cover (I preferred the watered down Daily Beast version, here) on their exploitative labor practices in China where factory workers live crammed in company dormitories, work 12-14 hour days on their feet and are kept from talking or taking bathroom breaks. Their hands grow useless after repeating the same tiny motions day, after countless day. No heathcare to help that problem, of course. And to top it all of, many of the workers are 12-14 years old.
Young Chinese workers, from here.
According to reports, the speed, efficiency and sheer manpower of the Chinese workforce is one of the major factors for Apple's meteoric profit margins. So, in order to make an extra $10 billion dollars, and save U.S. consumers around $65 dollars per iPhone, one of our favorite companies, the brainchild of our beloved Steve Jobs, makes product in cramped factories staffed by children who may never get the chance to actually use an Apple product.

Now, to be fair, Apple is far from the only company following these practices. And likely they are far from the worst. I think the shock is that we like this company, and expect more from them. But how can we, really? As Americans, we treat bargain hunting like a sport - myself included - and our collective bargaining power as consumers drives companies to pound down production costs in any way possible, or risk complete failure. Would we ever stand for an American 8th grader working in conditions like these? No, never. But a Chinese kid a word a way? Apparently so.

What's the solution? Fair trade shopping is a good option. When I was in India, I saw first hand how responsible business practices could transform the lives of workers -- mainly women who otherwise had no means to earn income, save for prostitution or back-breaking manual labor. The Village Experience, a fair trade business in Indianapolis where I worked for two years, offers  products that are certified fair trade and made by workers who recieve fair compensation for their labor. Nowadays, you can buy many products fair trade - clothes, jewelry, paper products, home goods, coffee, tea, olive oil, etc. is a good resource to get started.
Mata Traders has really cute items, all Fair Trade.
 But while many of the products are available at reasonable prices, it is also understood that consumers pay a higher price to ensure these products are certified fair trade. And the fact that you can get a similar item (earrings or a scarf, say) at Walmart for a third of the price makes the whole idea hard to implement on a large scale. People just don't want to stomach paying more than they have to for something -- and in times like these, many Americans can't afford to. I fall into the same category -- as much as I support fair trade in theory, it's hard to take the additional effort, and spend the extra money, to make it part of my daily life.

I think it's really a political decision - putting pressure on countries like China to reform their laws for worker's rights. And we all know how long that could take. But the good thing about brand loyaly is that it gives you some modicum of power - we can collectively influence the companies that rely upon that loyalty to enact change. So, if you're up for it, here's the email for concerns at Apple:
And, thank goodness, Goodwill is always there as a shopping option - green, guilt-free bargain hunting! 

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