October 26, 2011 5:43 AM
Development aid is a broken model, but trade — as opposed to aid — is a viable model for economic stimulation, says Paul Rice, the president and CEO of Fair Trade USA, who lectured as the NewDay Distinguished Speaker at Tulane on Friday (Oct. 21).
When he was first introduced to fair trade, Rice said he was working in Nicaragua with poor farmers at a time when the region was being sent lots of aid money to increase the volume of production, but not the margin of profit on each unit of production. That model doesn’t increase prosperity, but instead increases reliance on aid, he said.
The lecture was a narrative of Rice’s journey in founding Fair Trade USA in 1998. As the leading nonprofit certifier of Fair Trade products in the U.S., the organization works to alleviate poverty through a fair wage for workers in developing countries; to support sustainable methods of farming with minimal environmental impact; and to bring the farmer, retailers and consumers closer together to promote supply-chain transparency, fewer middlemen and quality products.
In the last 13 years, the company has gained more than 800 corporate partners, including retail giants WalMart and Starbucks. Rice said that “34 percent of American adults can recognize a fair-trade label and tell you what it means, and about half of that percentage reports buying those products.”
The soft-spoken CEO ended on an optimistic note. “We seem to be at a very interesting point in history, where consumers are increasingly aware of the impact of their purchasing decisions, and are willing to spend a little more for excellent products that make them feel good. And that’s very powerful.”
After the talk, a reception was held at the IN Exchange fair trade shop in the Lavin-Bernick Center.
The NewDay Distinguished Speakers Series is made possible by Stan and Dana Day.
Benton Oliver is a first-year student majoring in communication.
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 firstname.lastname@example.org