Supporting Students in Oakland and Around the World

Contest winners

Five of the six student winners of the Fair Trade USA/Oakland Unified School District essay contest supported by Pottery Barn Teen.

As we at Fair Trade USA adjusted and learned to navigate the difficult reality that the pandemic has put us in, we saw and heard the distress that those we seek to serve through the fair trade model were experiencing. From the start, all fair trade producers and cooperatives were seeking reliable information about COVID-19 in an effort to develop the best policies and procedures to protect their members’ health and income, factories were closing to protect a workforce that traditionally works indoors, and farm workers were faced with sheltering in place or returning home where there might be less economic opportunity.

As always, their creativity and care for their communities shined and inspired us as we persisted in our determination to support them and bring their challenges to light among US businesses and consumers. Now, more than ever, it’s important to us to consider new ways to uplift the more than 1,250 brands that we work with to bring Fair Trade Certified™ products to market.

Against this backdrop, we also worked to stay active in our home community in Oakland, CA. Along with our neighbors and friends, we felt the pain, anger, and disappointment in the ongoing systemic failure to ensure that all of us are treated equitably and fairly under the law. We listened and learned to the conversations at the margins and raised our voices and fists in the streets in peaceful protest. We formed working groups to share learning (and unlearning) resources, took action online, found organizations and causes in need of our support and called our legislators.

As the summer waned and schools announced plans to re-engage our children and restructure the academic landscape, the concerns of the parents in our organization and our community came to the fore. Our friends and valued partners at Pottery Barn Teen were also focused on supporting teens and parents during the virtual school year impacting our shared community in the Bay Area and beyond.

Pottery Barn Teen knows the challenges that children near and far are facing due to the pandemic. In 2019, one of Pottery Barn Teen's Fair Trade Certified factories in India used their Community Development Funds to launch two children’s tutoring centers. Many factory workers have not grown up with access to formal education, so the factory's Needs Assessment survey quickly identified that programs to better the quality of education for factory workers' children was a priority. These centers have enabled 110 children to receive a better education along with essential school supplies such as notebooks and pens. Two teachers were hired at each tutoring center and teach children from 3–5 pm daily.

Tutoring center in India launched and staffed using Fair Trade Community Development Funds

Unfortunately, during the pandemic these tutoring centers were closed with plans to reopen when it is safe.

Knowing that the kids of the Bay Area were also experiencing disruption to their learning, we decided to find a way to support some of them together as the school year began. After connecting with the Oakland Unified School District to explore ways that we could engage students and their families, we decided to offer an essay contest. The six winners (three each in middle and high school) would each receive a $500 gift card from Pottery Barn Teen to help them create a more effective home learning environment. Their charge was to write a 300–500 word essay answering the question: What is fair trade, and why does it matter during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The results were 213 entries filled with wisdom and insight, and the winners were so excited to receive the awards. We are thrilled to be able to contribute in this small way to the students in Oakland and encourage everyone to think about creative ways to support the learners and teachers in our communities across the country and the globe. Enjoy some of our favorite excerpts from the contestants below.

“In global supply chains that don’t follow the fair trade model, workers have much less of a voice and often don’t receive equitable pay; as consumers, we can help correct this injustice by supporting fair trade.”– 10th Grader, Skyline High School

“Fair trade as a way of commerce can bring relief to producer communities during and after this pandemic because it combats poverty, advocates for clean water and sanitation, and supports producers through a steady income and community funds.” – 8th Grader, Claremont Middle School

“When buying coffee beans, it's easy to thank the cashier, but not so easy to thank the people working tirelessly to make them for you. By “Seeking the Seal” and buying Fair Trade Certified products, your purchase is thanking them for you.” – 6th Grader, Edna Brewer Middle School

“Consumers need to shop for fair trade products to support keeping these communities safe and make sure the workers are paid fairly. We must always help other communities because when they rise up, we all rise with them.” – 7th Grader, Hillcrest Middle School