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The Wall Street Journal reports this morning on the growth of the Free Trade movement, once a niche issue restricted to specialty retailers and manufacturers, but now "part of a broader movement to make shoppers feel good about themselves and the food they are buying."

This broader movement has been embraced by companies such as Kraft Foods, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, and Dunkin' Donuts, all of which have introduced products labeled as such telling consumers that the workers in poor countries who make these products "received higher-than-usual wages and other benefits." Sales of Fair Trade Certified products are up 46 percent in the past year, according to the WSJ.

The political impact of where one buys food and what food is bought also can be seen in some restaurants that offer meat, eggs and vegetables that come from local producers, family farms, or "sustainable farms." According to the WSJ, "The Chefs Collaborative, a nonprofit group that educates chefs and consumers about alternative food production, says that usage of the term 'sustainable' has surpassed the word 'organic' on restaurant menus."

The WSJ goes on, "It's all part of a move to cater to the growing niche of shoppers willing to spend more money for products that let them feel they are acting in a socially responsible fashion."
KC's View:
The problem isn't that these kinds of socially responsible products don't make sense. They do.

The problem is that while a lot of manufacturers may be investing in such lines of product, we don't think they're doing a particularly good job of explaining to most consumers why these products exist, what the implications of socially responsible purchases are, and what the impact can be on politics, economies, and the environment.

Still, this kind of stuff rises up and bites you at the strangest moments. Late the other night, before hitting the sack, we remembered to put dishwasher detergent in the machine so the dishes would be done in the morning. We accidentally dripped just a bit of detergent on my robe…and within minutes, all the color in the robe in that particular spot was gone, eaten away. (It reminded us of what happened to the paint on our car during college, when we dripped a bit of chili from Tommy's Famous Burgers on it…but that's a different story.)

We started asking ourselves if that detergent could do that to our robe, what the hell is it doing to the environment? And we've started looking for alternatives.

These are minor issues. But we think that consumers are paying more and more attention to such questions.