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Can I Laugh On Your Shoulder?

Feb 20, 2019

The Fair Trade Federation is an association that works to elevate and strengthen fair trade partners in the United States and Canada. It's a key partner in the global fair trade movement. On this edition of the podcast, we catch up with the organization's executive director, Chris Solt.

Things You Don't Want To Miss:

Come To The Fair Trade Federation Conference! 

  • 1:20 - I'm going to be speaking at the Fair Trade Federation Conference in Austin, Texas in March. If you live in the area, you need to come check it out. There will be all sorts of speakers, fair trade organizations showing their wares, breakout sessions, and much more. For more information, visit

The Chris 101.

  • 3:45 - Chris takes us all the way back to the beginning and shares the story of his upbringing in Vermont and Ohio. Chris' father was a band director, and he grew up learning to play the drums, bass, guitar, piano, and many other instruments. He was even in a band, and he just knew he'd become a musician. He chose to skip college and become a recording engineer while working in Border's in Cleveland. In 1999, Chris became a father and attended college. His degree in Social Science landed him in a Ten Thousand Villages store, and it ultimately changed his path completely.

Following A Different Path.  

  • 8:04 - Chris took a job with a company called Ten Thousand Villages. It's a nonprofit that markets fair trade artisan products to alleviate poverty around the world. While there, Chris learned how commerce and retail could be leveraged to impact lives and boost local economies.

Becoming The Executive Director At The Fair Trade Federation. 

  • 10:58 - A friend connected with Chris and led him down the path toward working with the Fair Trade Federation where he now serves as their executive director.

How Do We Find Our Calling? 

  • 12:38 - Maybe you grew up wanting to be a teacher or a doctor, so you went to school and turned your passions into a profession. However, maybe your path hasn't been as clear. Chris shares how his life experiences in his twenties led him toward his calling later in life.

What Is The Fair Trade Federation? 

  • 14:10 - The fair trade industry consists of more than coffee, tea, and chocolate. There are all sorts of businesses involved, and the Fair Trade Federation is a trade association that seeks to strengthen and promote these organizations. Their mission is to build equitable and sustainable trading partnerships and create opportunities to alleviate poverty. The Fair Trade Federation works with all sorts of wholesalers, retailers, nonprofits, and faith communities. These organizations seek to promote justice and provide opportunities for laborers all over the world to find dignity in their work while sustaining their livelihood.

How The Fair Trade Federation Operates. 

  • 19:50 - The federation operates under principles of transparency and accountability for the purposes of creating opportunities, promoting fair trade, ensuring fair wages, and developing safe working conditions for laborers. They also fight for the rights of children, cultivate environmental stewardship and respect cultural identity. These seem like high standards, but the organization seeks to guarantee the products being sold by federation members haven't come at the cost of someone's health or dignity. The Fair Trade Federation wants its members to put fair trade in the very DNA of how they operate.

How The Fair Trade Federation Operates. 

  • 23:50 - The Fair Trade Federation works with all sorts of marginalized communities. They want to alleviate poverty and suffering, and they want to be a resource for those trapped in modern-day slavery.

A Story From Nepal. 

  • 26:16 - Chris shares the story of a trip to India and Nepal in 2008. While there he partnered alongside an organization called New Sadle which works exclusively with victims of leprosy. These victims are seen as outcasts in their villages and are even considered to be cursed.

Consider Your Purchases. 

  • 27:08 - Walk through Walmart and consider a $1.99 t-shirt. While that graphic tee might be harmless to you, there's a real possibility it was put together by an indentured servant on the other side of the world. We must consider where our money is going.

Chris Explains The Difference Between The Fair Trade Federation And The World Fair Trade Organization. 

A Difficult Question. 

  • 34:49 - Can something be ethical and not be fair trade? While this is a challenging concept to consider, the answer is absolutely. The Fair Trade Federation sets a high bar for its retailers, and not every well-meaning company qualifies. The fair trade movement is a spectrum, and while the term "fair trade" can get nebulous, any movement toward becoming fair trade is to be applauded. The simple step of adding transparency to a business can change lives.

Fair Trade Is A Learning Process. 

  • 41:22 - You don't change the world overnight, and you don't change your behavior overnight. It takes time to educate yourself about what it means to support fair trade and ethically made goods. It's easy to be discouraged, but take heart. The small steps you're taking really do impact lives.

Chris Shares More Details About The Fair Trade Federation Conference. 

  • 45:57 - This conference runs March 26-28th in Austin Texas. It's the 25th anniversary of the federation. While it's a professional conference, it's a great opportunity to learn about the fair trade industry, and the expo portion of the conference is open to the public.

Getting To Know Our Guest:

  • 52:20 - We take a moment to get to know Chris a little bit better by quizzing him on his favorite tv shows, meals, and guilty pleasures.

A Memorable Moment:

"When it began to click for me, I realized there is no piece of jewelry, there is no pair of shoes, there is no t- shirt that is worth someone else's life being treated as not worthy just so I can buy that item." - Molly Stillman


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