Fair Trade aims to help individuals abroad


Mustard Seed draws in customers with their attractive, colorful sign outside the store. Photo by Patrick Smith

Ashleigh Atasoy

Mustard Seed draws in customers with their attractive, colorful sign outside the store. Photo by Patrick Smith
Mustard Seed draws in customers with their attractive, colorful sign outside the store. Photo by Patrick Smith
FeaturesScraping the last puddles of glue onto pieces of newspaper, Medinah struggles to finish her last handmade bracelet before the end of the day. Along with the hundreds littered throughout the marketplace, Medinah’s booth stands weak, an example of the rough times it has stood against.
In the slums of Kampala, Uganda, poverty is widespread, and Medinah’s life  is no exception. Fighting to feed her family after escaping an abusive marriage, she labors to survive each day, constantly swapping jobs for better opportunities, praying she will not be cheated out of any money.
Meeting Medinah on a relief trip through Uganda in June of 2008, Christina and Jessie Linneman discovered this plight.  Immediately following this trip, Jessie Linneman became the first executive director of Mustard Seed. Giving Medinah the opportunity that she deserved, the self-proclaimed “Seed” picked her up as one of their first clients.  Since then, the shop has worked hard to spread the mission of fair trade to the community, working towards educating, transforming and inspiring Columbians to join the cause.
Along with other fair trade organizations such as  Peace Nook, The Seed hopes to help as many people trapped in horrific labor practices all over the world as possible. Junior Jackie Gajda is a supporter of the Fair Trade movement, believing it benefits people throughout the globe.
“Fair Trade is, instead of a middle man, it’s a direct connection with the people themselves that make the goods in third world countries,” Gajda said. “So you know that no one’s working in a sweat shop, you know that the wages are good, and the hours are good, and there’s no child labor involved, and all the profits go directly to them.”
Fair Trade, as compared to conventional trade, provides people with equal payment for their product.  Instead of exploiting money and labor out of workers, the method encourages growth and puts the rights of the individuals above all else. Beginning in the 1940s, Fair Trade has steadily gained ground since its first major campaign to eliminate the dehumanizing traditions that surrounded the coffee industry, according to www.fairtradeusa.org.
Since then, in an effort to fight for the rights of the oppressed, fair trade has spread across the world. In Columbia, businesses such as Peace Nook have sprouted up in downtown Columbia.  Located on Broadway Street, the self-proclaimed “Nook” has been a promoter of Fair Trade since August 1990.
“The Nook was created to serve as a hub for the progressive community in mid-Missouri,” Director of Missouri Peaceworks and The Peace Nook Mark Haim wrote in an email interview.  “As a non-profit resource center, primarily staffed by volunteers, we provide important message products … relevant literature … [and] natural and organic products, as well as a wide variety of Fair Trade products. The Nook also serves as an activism hub and a referral center for those looking to get involved in making progressive change.”
Other organizations such as Mustard Seed Fair Trade also aim to decrease controversial treatment of workers around the world. Since fair trade organizations pay the producers more for their goods, the groups struggle to compete with the majority of businesses that are not practicing fair trade ethics. Rock Bridge alumna Anna Sheals volunteers at Mustard Seed and knows firsthand the price difference between fair trade goods and conventional trade items.
“Fair trade items are almost always hand made, with a lot of care and time. You will not find two items exactly the same,” Sheals wrote in an email interview. “The price is sometimes slightly higher for this reason and because the money [you] are paying is actually being used to pay the artisan for their work.”
Despite these drawbacks to their businesses, both Peace Nook and Mustard Seed continue on with the goal to raise awareness within the community about fair trade.
“Mustard Seed was created to help connect Columbia with the global fair trade community,” Sheals said. “[We] aim to engage and educate the community about the principles and ideas behind fair trade and encourage other businesses and citizens to support this cause.”
By Ashleigh Atasoy
Photos by Patrick Smith
[nggallery id=223] Have you shopped at Mustard Seed or the Peace Nook? What are your opinions on the fair trade movement? Sound off in comments!