Fair Trade Towns USA adds Pasadena to its list

Holiday gifts

KPCC/Wendy Lee

Kim Perez sets up a holiday display at Ten Thousand Villages in Pasadena. The store sells fair trade items from around the world - goods like decorative handicrafts, food items, clothing and rugs manufactured with the workers' well-being in mind.

Pasadena is more than the Rose City to a national organization that seeks to improve conditions for workers in developing countries.

Fair Trade Towns USA has designated Pasadena as a “Fair Trade City.” Diana Percival, who heads the Pasadena effort, calls the designation an endorsement of giving people who make items like coffee and soaps, decent wages and workplaces that are safe and environmentally responsible.

“Reaching this designation as a fair trade town gives us something to be proud of and lets people from other cities know that purchasing fair trade products is more accessible in Pasadena,” Percival said.

Stores from Whole Foods Market to Ten Thousand Villages sell fair trade certified products. Those items are subject to a vetting process that determines whether their producers pay a living wage, return some profits to local communities and avoid child labor, among other standards.  Manufacturers can obtain that certification through non-profits like Fair Trade USA.

Percival’s group worked three years to win the designation for Pasadena. Based on the population size, at least 32 businesses in the city had to sell fair trade items. The Pasadena City Council also had to pass a resolution in support of fair trade.

The organizer Percival said she's witnessed the effects of fair trade on a village in Nepal where she lived for awhile.   Her hosts there grew fair trade lentils. Some proceeds from the sales helped build a paved road between the village and the city that cut the trip to and from markets by as much as 30 minutes.

Fair trade generated higher wages that enhanced the villagers' quality of life, she said.

“All of the families were building up their lives,” Percival said. “They were able to send their children to school, buy schoolbooks for them.”

Promoting fair trade goods can help customers decide where their purchases can help this kind of development. But nothing in the “Fair Trade City” designation legally binds Pasadena to buy or sell fair trade products.

Percival said her group supports customers buying certified fair trade products and also items from businesses that may not offer certified products, but know they meet fair trade standards. View a map of Pasadena stores that sell fair trade items here.

The certification process for fair trade vendors and manufacturers could change in the future. There has been discussion over whether products from large coffee farms should be allowed to apply for fair trade certification. Historically, small farms have been its focus, but Fair Trade USA is piloting a program to gauge whether larger farms might also qualify. 

Percival said Pasadena is the second Southland city, after Claremont, to get the "Fair Trade City" designation shared by about 1,500 municipalities around the world.

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