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Is Trades of Hope a Scam?

Trades of Hope is a company which claims to help empower artisans around the world by connecting them with ‘Compassionate Entrepreneurs’ in the United States to sell their product. It sounds like a win-win, but is it actually all it’s cracked up to be?

Trades of Hope is For-Profit.

The company is very upfront about this. However, they explain it as a honorable choice: “women don’t want charity.” The company avoids talking about profits. But it isn’t just about empowering women out of poverty, Trades of Hope is a for-profit company.

You can check out the company’s impact disclosures to learn more about how many artisans worked with the company. The personal stories are super impactful. Notably, there isn’t any concrete information about how much money actually reaches the artisans. Without concrete facts and figures it’s hard to know who is really being helped.

Condescending Savior Tone

In many places, the marketing is disgusting and unacceptable. Marketing materials play up the white savior angle.

“Over all, women in developing countries do not want charity. They want an opportunity. They want to feel the same pride we feel when they are able to take care of their families. And without an American women selling these products and raising awareness, our artisans would not have a sustainable income.”

If you or someone you know is considering selling Trades of Hope, be sure to read about these cultural phenomena and understand the damage this kind of thinking actually does.

It’s honestly difficult to read. Trades of Hope is anything but respectful to their “partners.” The materials refer to the artisan women from other countries in ways that are unbelievable.

“…in their natural environment.” Nope. Nope. Nope. Who talks like that about human beings?

These are not respectful ways to talk about global partners in business. There’s no way around this, and no excuse for it.

Fair Trade… Federation?

There are a number of Fair Trade organizations that companies can be certified by or be members of. They all have different requirements, values, and goals. Trades of Hope is a member of the Fair Trade Federation. This shouldn’t be confused with other the Fair Trade Certification.

Some of America’s most popular and respected brands are Fair Trade Certified. Companies like, Patagonia, Athleta, and Kashi, have been Fair Trade Certified by Fair Trade USA. Trades of Hope and their products do not have this certification.

Trades of Hope are instead members of the Fair Trade Federation. This organization is not affiliated with Fair Trade USA. Their values, requirements, and accountability are different. For example, Fair Trade Federation uses the same standards for food goods as well as handicrafts while Fair Trade Certification is specific to these different types. Fair Trade Federation is a membership rather than a certification. The requirements to join the Fair Trade Federation do not appear to be nearly as rigorous as those to be Fair Trade Certified.

Multi-Level Marketing

Trades of Hope is a multi-level marketing company part of the Direct Sales Association. The FTC commissioned a while ago that concluded more than 90% of people will lose money participating in MLM companies. That’s something to keep in mind when considering joining a company with a multi-level or network sales business model.

Another thing that’s really striking about Trades of Hope is that you cannot see the compensation plan online without joining. This is a red flag. It’s important to be able to evaluate the plan to be able to estimate costs, expenses, revenues, and determine if the opportunity is right for you.

Director Level Compassionate Entrepreneur Diagram

Based on the compensation plans we found, in order to reach the higher ranks with Trades of Hope you must recruit others to sell the products. This also requires those recruits to purchase starter packs and meet personal volume requirements. Sales commissions are “Compassionate Entrepreneurs” at lower ranks.

It is possible to earn money selling Trades of Hope. However, it is extremely difficult and unlikely to replace career level income. In order to comply with FTC regulations Trades of Hope should share how likely it is that you could earn “full time income” if someone is telling you that you can earn that much.

Recruiting tactics like talking about free vacations and quitting your job are scams. Ask the CE (or someone ‘sharing’ the opportunity with you) for real data to back up their claim.


  1. Melanie Sunukjian Melanie Sunukjian October 22, 2019
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    I appreciate the thoughtful response and questions about Trades of Hope here. It’s important to do research on any new endeavor that you are considering, especially if it makes these kinds of significant claims. Since this was written, the website and compensation plan have both been updated quite a bit, so I encourage people to continue to research after reading this. And take the advice to talk with a real CE before making a decision. I am thankful to have been with the company for over four years and would be happy to flesh this out with anyone who is interested. I’m also honest about the challenges of this kind of business model and though I believe it’s doable for anyone who has the passion and resilience to do it, not everyone who has joined has lasted.

    I also think some things have been misconstrued in this article. We work very hard NOT to have a Great White Hope mentality. But the reality is that opening up the US marketplace to our artisan partners is what’s allowing them to be paid fair wages. If you’ve ever traveled and shopped abroad, you know that you can haggle down prices with artisans and they are often not getting paid a living wage for their work. Not to mention that every major company that wanted a piece of Haiti in their shops after the big earthquake, haggled down prices with one of our major artisan groups there. Trades of Hope was the only company who didn’t and one of the few that is still partnering with them 9 years later.

    And it’s a dignified partnership. I have personally visited artisan groups in three of the countries we work with and they bring their traditional crafts (beading, dying, weaving, clay work, upcycled traditional fabric, detail painting, block printing, etc.) , some handed down for generations, their gorgeous designs and products (that I could personally never create) and we, as Compassionate Entrepreneurs, bring access to the US marketplace. We both bring something necessary to the table that the other doesn’t have and it’s a beautiful partnership.

    The only free vacations offered are ones that you earn through sales (I just went on an amazing trip to meet artisan groups in Guatemala this fall with a group of fellow CEs) and it is possible to make a career of this, but it takes years of consistency and building a team.

    I used to not like the idea of “recruiting” but have come full circle about that in the last four years. If Trades of Hope was merely a brick and mortar store or an online presence, you probably never would have heard of us. Since 2010 we have created almost 20,000 jobs between the artisans we partner with and the Compassionate Entrepreneurs all over the US. How many businesses have done that?

    And you know who else has no problem recruiting? Human traffickers. The latest trend is for pimps to financially incentivize victims to recruit more victims. So until that bullshit stops, we need an army of women who are putting their compassion into action and making a difference for women coming out of trafficking and providing job opportunities that prevent women from being vulnerable to it in the first place.

    Bottom line: Trades of Hope is right in the middle of doing important sustainable work that is usually associated with non-profits (who seem to escape this level of criticism and often don’t provide long term sustainable solutions), and Direct Sales companies that provide flexible income for women (with a tainted perception to some), but we don’t pay as much because unlike so many of them, we pay the people who make our products fair wages.
    Sometimes it feels like we can’t win, but I believe it’s a genius missional business model that balances the best of both worlds and plans to do good work and continue to grow for the better well into the future.

  2. Brian Nagele Brian Nagele November 16, 2019

    Way to go on this post man. Really interesting stuff. I’ll be back to read your other posts.

  3. Aaron Clay Aaron Clay November 26, 2019

    Their’s hurt in truth.

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