Slavery still exists. In fact, there are more slaves today than have existed at any time in human history. Outsourcing to sweatshops in China has become an institution of the modern American business model; the sex industry in Thailand, while technically illegal, is more of a tourist attraction than a national epidemic. Yes, everyday, modern-day “slaves” must endure the weight of a profit-driven global economy, chained to a life of work for which they are sorely underpaid — or, in the case of Thailand, for which they were given no choice.     

Here in Pasadena, steps are being taken to help alleviate this burden, which affects millions around the world, by officially becoming a “Fair Trade Town,” the second Southern California city to do so, joining Claremont in the fight against global poverty.

Fair Trade Towns is a campaign by which consumers can be assured the products they are purchasing were produced under healthy working conditions at a fair wage. At the same time, it encourages self-sufficiency and opens up the market to people who can pay an honest price for products otherwise unavailable.

According to Fair Trade Pasadena Committee Member Maya Sharp, Fair Trade uses commerce, not charity, as a way of including those disenfranchised members of society in a global economy. “I think it’s a beautiful way to support people in other countries without necessarily giving to charity,” Sharp said.

Kim Perez, who volunteers at Ten Thousand Villages in Pasadena, a Fair Trade retailer, recently returned from a trip to Nicaragua, where she met with farmers — all women — who work with an organization called “La FEM” (La Fundacion Entre Mujeres, or The Foundation Among Women). La FEM is a cooperative of “Just Coffee,” which supplies coffee to Perez’s store. “Fair Trade is a way to help these women directly,” Perez told the Weekly. “When you buy Fair Trade, you know that you’re supporting an individual who’s working hard. They just want a fair way to sell their products and this is a way to do it.” La FEM also provides educational programs focusing on literacy, domestic violence and reproductive health.

Before it can be designated a Fair Trade Town by the campaign, a city must meet five criteria. It must have a certain percentage of its stores selling Fair Trade products, a certain number of organizations using Fair Trade products (for example, churches serving Fair Trade beverages during their coffee hours), events in which Fair Trade products are sold, a committee that meets regularly, and a resolution passed by a city council formally designating the city a Fair Trade Town.

On Jan. 14, with more than 40 local businesses currently selling Fair Trade goods (from small shops like Ten Thousand Villages to large retailers like Target), and over 25 organizations using such products, and with a committee formed,  the City Council designated Pasadena a Fair Trade Town.

“Economically, it’s really good for Pasadena. People know they can find these products here,” said Fair Trade Pasadena Head Organizer Diana Percival. “For the community around the world, we are saying that we want the standards we expect here [to extend to] people all over the world [who are] producing goods. We hold these standards high for everyone across the board.”