10 December 2015

A fair and ethical journey

Student Melaine Lazelle at a fair trade and organic cotton field.

Melanie with fair trade, organic cotton that is made into RMIT tees and fair trade varsity jackets.

As consumers, we truly have the power to change the world through our purchasing power.

I am a Master of International Development student exploring the impact of fair and ethical trade on artisans, tea plantation workers, cotton farmers and garment factory workers in India.

Fair trade – a movement, a certification system, and an intrinsic principle in these organisations – is making an impact at a grassroots level in India by bringing livelihood opportunities to people who lack opportunities or who face barriers to accessing markets and livelihood options. I have seen fair trade empowering women’s groups and tea workers where women are the main breadwinners and decision-makers within their communities – a true impact in a society where systemic gender inequalities exist. I have seen fair trade bringing a source of income to marginalised and disadvantaged groups, such as victims of trafficking for prostitution in Kolkata, Tibetan artisan refugees, and groups affected by leprosy and disabilities.

I have also seen how fair trade improves the lives of people along the garment production supply chain. Organic cotton farming and production, along with fair trade, ensure both environmental and social standards are met. Fair trade ensures garment workers have safe and healthy working environments and are paid at least national minimum wages. It also provides these communities with the extra fair trade premium for community development that I have seen being spent on education and training, a library, healthcare, clean drinking water, microloans, and insurance.

This journey has highlighted to me that as consumers, we have the ability to contribute to these projects and make an impact on people a world away. As well as choosing to support ethical and fair trade organisations so that they can produce more on fair trade terms and have even bigger impacts on developing countries, we can also pressure the places that we buy from to demand better practices along their supply chains. This will slowly improve practices in places such as India.

To me, the opportunity to gain practical international work experience and research experience through my RMIT program is one of the university’s main strengths. Students have the opportunity to join study tours, complete overseas internships, and engage in self-initiated overseas projects. In addition to these worldly opportunities, I am proud that RMIT is supportive of ethical trade and a leader in sustainability. If you are interested in these areas and social justice, RMIT is the place to seed these ideas and initiatives. Students can get involved in one of RMIT’s sustainability groups and clubs, support fair trade at RMIT and learn about RMIT’s sustainability programs and Seedlings Funding for sustainability projects through Sustainability at RMIT.

Thank you to RMIT’s Sustainability Committee and RMIT Global Mobility, Deakin University and their Fair Trade India Experience, 3Fish, Etiko for collaborating with me on this journey, and the organisations and individuals that have contributed their time and knowledge.

*Written by Master of International Development student Melanie Lazelle.

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