By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Healdsburg on Tuesday took steps toward becoming the first “Fair Trade Town” in Sonoma County, part of a movement to encourage fair labor practices and healthy working conditions in the production of imported food and goods.
The City Council unanimously approved a resolution expressing support for fair trade practices and a local committee’s initiatives to make Healdsburg a “Fair Trade Town USA.”
“I believe in this program — its concept and idea,” said Councilman Steve Babb. He said it is compatible with local efforts to provide food, medical services and housing for low-income people.
“This seems to fit,” he said.
Embracing fair trade principles is something council members agreed upon at their last meeting, but postponed formal action to ensure there were no lingering questions from retailers. No controversy emerged.
“I talked to about every business owner and I haven’t had any negative response,” said Ray Ballestero, the leading proponent for establishing Healdsburg as a Fair Trade Town.
Supporters gathered more than 200 signatures to designate the city as Fair Trade, including from 18 retailers in addition the 10 already considered Fair Trade stores.
The organizers are aligned with Fair Trade Towns USA, a grassroots campaign formed to raise awareness of the issue and build demand for products from developing countries that are made under safe working conditions and with decent pay.
The goods typically are certified by a fair-trade federation and include commodities such as coffee, tea, cocoa and bananas, jewelry and apparel.
As a practical matter, the City of Healdsburg probably will not incur more than $250 a year in added expenses by buying fair trade items, for things such as coffee at the senior center or bananas for a day care program.
To be designated a Fair Trade Town, a community must have one business per 5,000 residents that carries at least two fair-trade items.
Healdsburg more than meets the minimum requirements, since 10 stores in town currently sell two or more fair-trade products. Among those are Safeway, Big John’s Market, Shelton’s Natural Foods Market, Copperfield’s Books and some smaller coffee shops and stores.
The most high-profile store, One World Fair Trade on Matheson Street next to the Healdsburg Plaza, sells nothing but fair-trade items from more than 35 countries.
“Fair Trade changes lives with everything you buy,” says the sign at the entrance to the store, which has been in Healdsburg for nine years.
Ballestero, the owner, said the wholesalers he buys from are members of fair trade organizations and have a list of protocols that ensures an item is produced equitably and pay is good, typically four times the minimum wage of the country of origin.
Some critics have dismissed fair trade as essentially a marketing ploy that benefits retailers more than Third World farmers and workers. It also has been criticized as a subsidy that can actually interfere with market forces and impede growth.
But supporters say fair trade promotes core social concepts such as alleviating poverty, environmental sustainability, access to education and health care and women’s empowerment.
“It’s important to tell people first-hand this does make a difference,” said Kim Lopez, the general manager of One World Fair Trade, who said she has traveled to Guatemala, El Salvador and India to meet with the artisans who make jewelry, ceramics and candle holders.
As a result of Fair Trade, she said she had witnessed how some of the workers are able to afford decent homes, send their children to school or be rescued from the sex trade.
So far, there have been about two dozen places in the United States designated Fair Trade Towns, with more in the process, including Calistoga.