Fair Trade vs Free Trade

Saturday May 31, 2008

Free Trade and Mercado

Today we visited Esperanza En Accion which stands for “Hope Through Action”. It is a Fair Trade Organization with two very prominent missions. One mission is “to economically empower Nicaraguan artisans and their families by promoting their work, and helping to connect them with fair markets both in Nicaragua and internationally.” And their second mission is “to empower people in the ‘First World’ to help transform our global economic system into one that is fair for All people.”

At Esperanza En Accion, there were a lot of intricate and detailed items. The gorgeous and inspiring Yamileth Perez was present and spoke a bit about the history of fair trade as well as all of the work and patience that people have to put into various items. These items ranged from necklaces and earrings made from seeds, a variety of bracelets, vases, clay/ceramic whistles in the shapes of animals, bags, cards and more all made by hand. The greatest thing about fair trade is that we know the artisans creating these beautiful pieces are receiving a fair amount of money for the work and time put into the pieces.

However, the Mercado is extremely different. A Mercado is a market area that is considerably a “free-for-all” for lack of better words. It’s a huge open center of merchants that are highly willing to bargain due to the competition surrounding them. Almost every person in the Mercado is selling the same thing and it is a very crowded place. It’s also very different from the mall that we went to. Price tags on most of the items in the mall are in dollars rather than cordobas. The prices are practically the same as our American malls with some top designer merchandise such as Guess, Gucci and more. The average Nicaraguan makes less than $2 a day. Therefore, you can only imagine the scarce amount of Nicaraguans in this mall compared to the amount of people in mercadoes or the immense amount of Americans in our American malls.

So here we have these three different shopping areas. We have fair trade where we know most of the funds go directly to the artisan and then we have Mercadoes that are crowded, competitive among merchants, yet cheaper for customers. Finally there’s the mall that most Nicaraguans aren’t even able to shop in. It really is a shame and a bit upsetting but these are the unfortunate circumstances of the Nicaraguan shopping areas as well as many other countries around the world.