A recent petition campaign launched by the Fair Trade Teaneck Steering Committee aims to get the signatures of 1,000 area residents in order to make the case to Teaneck businesses that township shoppers want more Fair Trade products.
The committee, which earned Teaneck its designation of Fair Trade Town in October, embraces the global movement of providing merchants and farmers with fair wages and safe working conditions in exchange for their promise to follow environmentally friendly practices and eliminate child slave labor, organizers say.
The Fair Trade Teaneck committee recently posted their petition online, and last check had 35 signatures. Committee member Louis Osman said he was a little disappointed that the number wasn’t higher, but he said he’s confident that the number will climb as word spreads about the petition and the reasoning behind it.
“We think that the petition will get the residents involved and will help get the attention of retailers,” said Osman, who added that businesses are more likely to make changes if they see that there are customers who’ll patronize them.
WORKING WITH CORPORATE OFFICES
Committee member Jennifer Glass drew up the petition. She hopes it will help persuade larger retailers – and ultimately their corporate offices – to agree to some in-store changes that’ll make it easier for customers to locate existing Fair Trade merchandise.
“It’s always nice to see a group do something on its own, but you do need support from the community,” Glass said. “It carries much more weight. For example, when you go to Stop & Shop and you speak with management, they need to go through corporate to make changes, but if we can show them we have a community of 1,000 strong who want Fair Trade products labeled better in their store, it would be better business for corporate to listen.”
Glass said it’s great that Fair Trade products are available at Teaneck’s Stop & Shop, but she said customers may have trouble finding the items because they are placed alongside non-Fair Trade items. She would like to see a dedicated aisle or section for Fair Trade merchandise, but she said she understands that may be a cumbersome task. She said placing stickers on the shelves to point out Fair Trade items would be a good place to start.
“I’m more than happy to work with Stop & Shop to make things easier for consumers,” Glass said.
In an emailed statement, Stop & Shop’s corporate office responded to Fair Trade Teaneck’s suggestion of placing stickers on store shelves.
“Stop & Shop is proud to carry many products that are labeled Fair Trade,” said Amy Murphy, director of Stop & Shop’s marketing and external communications. “You are correct that it is quite challenging to change displays in store given the number of products we carry. Unfortunately, we also have many messages that we try to communicate within the store. We will take your concerns under advisement as we create future communication plans.”
MAKING FAIR TRADE THE ONLY OPTION
also sells Fair Trade products within their facility. The medical center’s 2,000 full- and part-time employees can purchase Fair Trade coffee and tea within the employee cafeteria, said Jackie Kates, community relations coordinator at HNMC and member of the Fair Trade Teaneck committee.
“Fair Trade coffee and tea are the only coffee and tea items available for employees to purchase in their cafeteria,” she said.
Kates said sustainability and social justice are important to Holy Name, which is why the medical center will consider broadening its offering of Fair Trade certified products throughout the rest of the building.
“We’re certainly looking into expanding Fair Trade products into our other cafeteria,” Kates said. “We’re also looking to have the gift shop carry some Fair Trade items.”
A CLOSE RELATIONSHIP WITH FARMERS
owner Tim Blunk started selling Fair Trade-certified flowers alongside his organically grown flowers about three years ago. He said he found it difficult to find wholesalers who’d provide him with Fair Trade flowers, so he deals directly with the farmers himself.
“I know the names of the people who pack my flowers,” said Blunk, who is also a member of the Fair Trade Teaneck Steering Committee. “I get flowers three days from being picked – the freshness is out of this world.”
Blunk said the higher price tag that accompanies Fair Trade flowers often makes shoppers stop and ask him questions.
“There is a 15 percent price difference – most of which I swallow,” he said. “But, every time I sell my flowers it’s an educational opportunity. Most people aren’t aware that a majority of the flowers in the U.S. come from outside the country, something like 80 percent. They also aren’t aware of the overuse of pesticides and abusive conditions of the farms that grow the flowers in Ecuador and Columbia.”
Blunk said consumers are becoming more conscious of ethical business practices and that retailers can either find themselves behind the curve or ahead of the curve in regards to selling Fair Trade products.
“Customers may not necessarily be happy to pay a higher price, but they’re willing and happy to contribute to something more ethical,” Blunk said. “You’re paying what the item would cost in a just world. If people are armed with knowledge, most will make good choices. Some of course could care less, but increasingly given the knowledge about what non-Fair Trade farmers go through compared to Fair Trade farmers, people will make the right choice on which products to buy.”
RESIDENT DOES HER PART TO HELP
Teaneck resident Jean Greenfield, a self-described “chocoholic,” attended a screening of The Dark Side of Chocolate, which was one of two documentaries shown at the during Fair Trade Teaneck’s June exhibit there. The film highlights child labor and human trafficking issues that occur on the cocoa fields of the Ivory Coast.
Greenfield said she found the information in the movie interesting and that she learned Fair Trade-certified products like chocolate often carry a symbol on the packaging.
“When I buy chocolate now, I’ll certainly look for the Fair Trade symbol,” she said.
Greenfield said the next time she visits the Senior Services Center, she’ll take a hard copy of Fair Trade Teaneck’s petition to show to her friends.
“I’ve been successful with past petitions to get a lot of people to sign, but I don’t want anyone to sign it blindly,” she said. “The Fair Trade cause means something to me, so I’ll explain it as best I can.”
Greenfield said she couldn’t guess how many signatures she might be able to get, but she said she’ll just point out that Teaneck is a part of a small group across the nation committed to Fair Trade.
“It makes me feel virtuous to buy Fair Trade,” she said half-jokingly, with a laugh. “But, this issue involves the rights of humans. It’s a new concept for people, but once they digest it, they’ll tell others about it. It’s about fairness and being kind to mankind.”
Greenfield said merchants should have confidence in Teaneck’s population, which she described as “a bright group of people.”
“Merchants have to listen to the ‘thinking people’ and get on the bandwagon to attract more customers. It’s just the right thing to do,” Greenfield said. “If we lived in a country where our children were treated horribly, we would ask why. Children are our treasure no matter what country they are from, and they are our future.”