Tony Zielinski introduced the Fair Trade Resolution to
Milwaukee, and was a driving force in Milwaukee becoming a
Fair Trade City.
Milwaukee is known for its beer and
brats, but many aren’t aware it is also an international leader in
In fact, last June the city council
passed a resolution designating Milwaukee as the first and only Fair
Trade City in the United States, resulting in a beehive of activities
to promote fair trade in our fair city.
Fair trade promotes livable wages, safe
working conditions and long-term economic and environmental
sustainability for farmers and artisans in developing countries. Green
and organic products are hot, but so are fair trade products. Demand
for fair trade in the U.S. is growing at a rate of approximately 40
percent annually, totaling $2.6 billion in sales in 2006.
And fair trade is going mainstream.
Walk into many McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, or Sam’s Club and you
will find fair trade coffee. But fair trade products have expanded
beyond coffee to include chocolate, bananas, rice, wine and other
agricultural products, as well as nonagricultural products such as
sports balls, crafts, housewares and musical instruments. For a list
of local businesses that sell fair trade certified products, such as
Anodyne, Beans & Barley, Comet Café and Outpost Natural Foods,
log onto www.transfairusa.org.
"For many years retailers were not
sure if people really cared about the plight of farmers and workers in
the developing world, yet companies like the Outpost, Whole Foods, and
Roundy’s are taking the leap of faith by putting fair trade products
on the shelf," says Paul Rice, founder and CEO of TransFair USA,
the only organization certifying fair trade products in the U.S.
"The good news is that people do care. We are finding through the
rapid growth of this market, increasing concern about plight of the
world, about social and environmental issues from people in this
The ground floor
There is a vibrant grass roots movement
of businesses and community organizations in Milwaukee that know about
fair trade, are excited about it and want to build the movement and
reach more citizens in the city, notes Rice. "They have been
joined by forward-thinking leaders such as Alderman Tony Zielinski,
and Mayor Tom Barrett, in particular, who really got it and decided to
join in the front end rather than much later, which is unique,"
According to Barrett, "Milwaukee
has an important role in the global marketplace, but we maintain a
commitment to improving the lives of workers in developing nations by
supporting fair market trading practices. Fair trade is like an
international farmers market, and now our citizens have the ability to
affect social change by becoming consciousness consumers."
The Fair Trade Resolution, which was
introduced by Zielinski, is modeled after the hundreds of fair trade
cities in Europe, and encourages fair trade purchases within the city
government and among local businesses, schools, religious groups and
consumers. The resolution establishes a steering committee to educate
the public about fair trade. "The ultimate goal is to educate as
many people in our region about fair trade so we can have as dramatic
an impact as possible," says Zielinski. "The other key
component is to help spread fair trade to other municipalities as
Local businesses are demonstrating
leadership in the fair trade movement, and provide significant local
community support as well. Rishi Tea Co. purchases tea from selected
regions of the world, including the villages of Jing Mai, an area of
China whose culture has been intertwined with ancient tea trees for
more than 1,500 years and has the highest poverty rates. Rishi pays
above-market prices, plus an additional premium, for community
improvements such as building a library, a hot shower system, water
purification, and agricultural training programs. "We do business
with larger, high-quality companies on a national scale, such as Whole
Foods, Wagmans and Williams Sonoma, but our bread and butter has been
and remains to this day locally independently owned business café
coffee shops and retailers such as Sendik’s and Outpost," says
Ben Harrison, co-owner of Rishi.
Another "home-grown" company,
Alterra, is a licensed roaster of Fair Trade Certified coffees since
2002, and now ranks among the top 12 licensees in the U.S. The
business has a long-term relationship with the Kulaktik coffee
cooperative in Chiapas, Mexico. Alterra’s "give back
program" allocates 25 cents of every pound of coffee sold to
Kulaktik, which provides an additional $15,000 to $20,000 to the co-op
each year. The co-op takes this money and fair trade premiums, and
invests in business and community development, such as constructing a
tasting laboratory, formation tank and health clinic. These
international projects complement Alterra’s local community
partnerships, such as a curriculum project for fourth-graders on Fair
Trade at the Fratney School. Alterra even donates its used coffee
grinds to the Growing Power Food Center and Training facility. The
grinds are used for a worm farm that produces high-grade fertilizer
that Growing Power sells to support its nonprofit activities.
A personal statement
Businesses are not the only ones
getting involved in fair trade; entire neighborhoods are, too. Vliet
Street hosts fair trade festivals, which include fair trade wine and
coffee tasting events. Also on Vliet Street is the Four Corners of the
World Fair Trade Store and the Fair Grounds Coffee shop, both opened
in the last two years.
The interfaith community has
historically been very active in promoting fair trade. For example,
the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of
America runs the Mt. Meru Coffee Project, which promotes fair-trading
with coffee farmers in Tanzania.
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the
grass roots organization SWIFT (SW Wisconsin Fair Trade) sponsors the
Milwaukee Clean Clothes Campaign. The campaign is an anti-sweatshop
initiative which has already had success with anti-sweatshop work in
public and private schools, and all levels of government. The campaign
has developed fair trade curriculum, and consumer information on how
and where to buy fair trade products in Milwaukee. Local colleges,
such as Marquette University, are also very active in the fair trade
movement, and this past November sponsored a Fair Trade Christmas
According to Rice, promoting fair trade
it is quite simple: "You have a voice whether you know it or not.
And when you speak corporate America listens. So the most important
thing that consumers can do is look for the fair trade label when they
shop, buy fair trade products, and if it is not in your local store or
local café, church, or school, ask for it."