On Monday, April 26, at Capital University, we might be willing to give the shirts off of our backs after meeting a Bangladeshi garment worker and a Pakistani who works in a factory that produces some of the balls soccer moms watch their kids kick around.

“The conditions are very bad in some of these factories. In fact, in Bangladesh, very recently there was a fire in a garment factory. The same factory had a fire six months ago and people died in both of those fires,” said Karen Hansen, an activist who works with Ohio Conference on Fair Trade, one of the groups sponsoring the event locally, along with some labor unions and the Ohio Sweat-Free Campaign.

Hansen said she disagrees with those who say sweatshops are justified in that people working in them would be worse off if the industries left their countries.

“That's one story they like to tell, especially those who profit off of those conditions. But there are plenty of places where they are creating fair-trade soccer balls and fair-trade garments. So, we know that it can be done,” Hansen said.

But the fair trade movement is not focused only on workers in other countries. Trade polices have affected workers in the United States in the sense of the loss of manufacturing jobs. While some conservatives may blame environmental regulation and labor unions for that, activists such as Hansen say corporations have sought to increase their profits by relocating to countries where they can pay workers a fraction of what they have paid workers in the United States.

“The agenda for the past couple of decades has been ….to export as much as possible and to get other countries to produce as much as possible at the lowest wages possible because that is what is most profitable for the multinational corporations,” Hansen said.

She said she and other activists in the fair trade movement are not against international trade and don't aim to be 'protectionist.'

“ 'Protectionism' is a very subjective term because what we call 'free trade' right now is not really free. It's an institutionalized way of protecting the largest corporations in the world. That is how our trade agreements right now are written...(involving ) NAFTA, the WTO, and including CAFTA and most of the trade agreements since,” Hansen said. She said this takes place at the expense of communities in countries around the world, including the United States.

The Ohio Conference on Fair Trade supports the T.R.A.D.E Act which has been introduced in Congress. T.R.A.D.E. is an acronym for Trade Reform Accountability Development and Employment.

“The T.R.A.D.E. Act calls for a positive way of doing trade, a way that doesn't exploit our trading partners and doesn't call for the out-sourcing of our manufacturing base, which is what our current trade policies do.”