The "Other Side" of Fair Trade

This post is edited from a letter we received from one of our brand partners regarding a product we recently featured in one of our boxes. We were shocked and heavy-hearted at the news, and after consulting with our partner, we've decided to share this story with all of you... not as something to darken her brand (we continue to fully support her work and heart), but because this was an eye-opening experience to us and, we hope, will be to you too as you do your research about the products you buy. Names and identities have been removed so this piece doesn't discredit anyone unintentionally.

Dear bonJOY team:

Some things have come to light to me recently concerning the pieces I sell. It is with a very heavy heart that I write this, but I think & hope it will bring awareness for you in the future. I honor and respect you both and want to protect your brand.

I have been lied to.

I got a call from the main missionary friend I work with about three weeks before your order was supposed to ship to me and she was really concerned. You may remember that at one point I was concerned I wouldn’t get them in time, but then after a conversation with the owner of the organization we support, I was assured that I would. Well, my friend was confused because she knew that no one at the organization was working on these. She didn’t understand how they could get done on time. I assured her the owner kept telling me they would but she was scared they were going to be late.

I did in fact get them on time. When I got them, I also got a shipment of more pieces to add to my store. Once I posted them online, my friend contacted me again, confused. She said she has never seen the types of pieces in my store made by the ladies at the organization. She said something is just not adding up, but she was so relieved I got the order on time.

Since then I’ve been on my guard, but also just grateful I got the order for you on time.

Anyway, two weeks ago, my friend contacted me again. She and her husband were traveling and stopped in a market about two hours away from the town they live and work in. They walked into a little store. She heard Christian music playing and they started talking to the owner (it’s unusual to hear Christian music in public places there). She started walking around the store and realized she was seeing all the pieces that I had just posted in my online store... and then she saw a big stack of the ones I had custom ­ordered for bonJOY. She held up that piece and asked if he made them. He said yes, that the same owner of the organization we support had ordered a lot of those recently.

So, we found the answer to what wasn’t adding up. We believe the owner of the organization has been outsourcing the making of the jewelry and selling it under the pretense that it was made by women freed from human trafficking. The money that I send does go to the organization, his organization, but if the ladies don’t make the pieces they are not getting their cut of that. (They get paid when they complete a piece, so if they don’t make them, they don’t see any of this money.)

I’m done working with this man, but I hurt for these girls who have already been exploited -some of them their whole lives. It looks like this man is starting to lie about now ­a number of things, and their program may lose their funding. So this man's poor decisions may bring down an organization that is helping so many ladies who are desperate for help. It’s extremely sad and troubling.

I’m told by my missionary friend that this sort of thing is more common than anyone knows. She says the other side of “fair trade” is sketchy. What people do in other countries to portray fair trade is sometimes not truly so, but they go to great lengths to sell goods to make money. All of this just leaves a bad taste in my mouth and makes me questions what I’m doing entirely. Or at least trying to do.

On the flip side of things, I have a meeting next week with someone about a new project. I’m grateful to know that God still has a plan for my efforts, even if they change direction.

One of the main reasons I’m sharing this with you is to just let you know that even with all of my intentions, research, and so forth, I sold you a product that was not what I believed it to be. I’m so very sorry. If I had any idea this was going on I would have shut it down immediately. I also hope that you are cautious with others, especially in working with other countries.

Best of luck with your company and all of your endeavors. I hope that maybe down the road when I build new relationships and may eventually have another product to sell that you would still consider me. I will always be open and honest with you all. 

— [name withheld]

Clearly, there is a lot of work still to be done when it comes to fair trade. This is why we care so much about transparency and challenge ourselves to ask potential partners the tough questions about how their products and materials are sourced. There will always be a certain level of trust required, and this story only emphasizes how that can be taken advantage of. This partner's unsolicited and honest response makes us love and support her work even more (we don't believe there's anything more she could have done), and we hope her letter challenges you and the rest of our partners to shop with both eyes open, as it has us. In the meantime, here at bonJOY, we'll continue to do that research for you to the greatest extent of our ability so that you can be fully confident in what you receive from us.

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