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Chicago is the Fair Trade Capital of the USA

Sep 26, 2016 ● By Anni Metz

Photo courtesy of Chicago Fair Trade

The Second City comes in first place with the largest concentration of fair trade businesses in the country. This might seem insignificant, but it is not; the ethical economy is expanding quickly, and Chicago is at the forefront of this growth, poised to be a leader in a truly global movement.

       Chicago Fair Trade (CFT), a nonprofit coalition with offices in Chicago’s Printer’s Row, is leading the charge to grow the fair trade industry in the region, and this year the organization celebrates their 10th anniversary. The past decade has been one of enormous growth and success for CFT. In 2006, a small, dedicated group of activists, volunteers, community leaders and businesses formed a nonprofit organization with the mission to increase awareness and demand for fair trade products. In 2008, CFT launched a campaign to have Chicago designated a Fair Trade City. Over the years, CFT has partnered with allied businesses, congregations, student organizations, political groups and activists to make the city the fair trade hub it is today.

       Fair trade comprises an alternative business model that focuses attention and resources on the triple bottom line: people, the planet and profits. Fair trade businesses pay fair wages to the artists, makers and farmers that make their products using environmentally friendly methods, investing in the communities where they work and more, all while building successful brands, creating beautiful products and turning a profit. In a world where more than 1 billion people live on less than $1 per day, fair trade businesses are providing sustainable jobs to the poorest of the poor, giving them the opportunity to transform a life of poverty into a life of opportunity. Photo Courtesy of Chicago Fair Trade

       Chicago was officially named a Fair Trade City in 2011 and a Sweatfree City in 2014. Last year, Cook County was named a Sweatfree County; the largest in the country to receive the designation. Chicago Fair Trade currently lists more than 50 business members, by far the largest concentration in the U.S. “Ten years ago, when Chicago Fair Trade was first formed, we had three business members,” says Katherine Bissell Cordova, executive director of Chicago Fair Trade. “We have seen it snowball in the last few years; people are seeing firsthand that there is a better way of doing business and founding their own brands based on fair trade principles.”

       Dozens of religious congregations in the Chicago area are promoting fair trade by organizing holiday markets, hosting speakers from the CFT Fair Trade Speakers Bureau as part of their Fair Trade in the Sanctuary program and selling fair trade coffee and chocolate each week after their services.

       CFT partnered with students at DePaul University to form the DePaul Fair Trade Committee in 2012  and helped them receive status as a Fair Trade University. In the years since, they have launched a Chicago Students for Fair Trade Meetup group that convenes twice a year to share ideas and host fair trade events on campuses around the city. Northwestern University, Columbia College and Loyola University have all launched similar campaigns to become Fair Trade Universities.

       Chicago Fair Trade has also partnered with national and international organizations such as the Fair Trade Federation, the World Fair Trade Organization, Fair Tuesday and Fashion Revolution to raise the profiles of Chicago fair trade, sustainable and ethical businesses in a growing, global marketplace.

Attend the Chicago Fair Trade Globalfest gala on Nov. 18. To learn more, visit See ad on page 35.

Anni Metz runs Ethica Collective, a Chicago-based creative marketing consultancy where she works with ethical and sustainable businesses to craft their company stories, reach new audiences and grow their brands.