Multi-level Marketing scheme "disguised as an advocacy organization" draws criticism

Here's another multi-level-marketing scheme to be aware of. It's called "Trades of Hope" and Hannah Alonzo describes it as an MLM scheme "disguised as an advocacy organization." Here's how the Trades of Hope website pitches the business to potential "partners" and "advocates" (that's what they call folks who join the MLM to sell merchandise and recruiting additional sellers for their downline):

"Create job opportunities for women leading their families out of poverty and human trafficking by shopping ethically made home decor!"

The company works with "Artisan partners" across the globe, who create the products that are then sold by folks who sign up for the MLM. Trades of Hope describes their relationship with the artisans:

We pay our Artisan partners 100% of their asking price (they set the price!) for a product order before you even see that product on our website! We are in a business partnership with them. Not a charity. Our Artisans receive 3 to 6 times what they would normally make in their region. The Fair Trade communities that are helping them get their product to market follow guidelines of checks and balances to give back, not just to the Artisan, but to their community as a whole as well. This includes things like wells, children's schools, education for adults, land, and developing homes. It is life changing. Fair Trade is about providing a living wage for those in extreme poverty and giving them a chance for a better life. 

If the business just worked with artisans to sell their products to the public, I'd have no problem with it, and would actually see it as a positive thing. However, Trades of Hope doesn't simply support artisans—its business model is based on recruiting sellers who then recruit other sellers, which makes it a typical MLM. The recruitment page of the Trades of Hope website clearly states: "Enjoy The Rewards and The Partner Does All The Work!" The problem is, though, that very few people are actually "enjoying the rewards," as it's been shown time and again that 99% of people who participate in MLMs lose money. 

Over on Reddit, in the terrific subreddit r/antiMLM ("Stop MLM schemes from draining your friends dry. Multi Level Marketing (MLM) schemes are a drain on our society. Its participants either build the pyramid taller or get squashed by it.") I found some interesting discussions of Trades of Hope. Here's some insight from a former member:

I escaped from them. It's basically an MLM. You don't need to keep product on hand, you have a personal seller website and you pressure people to host parties. Their schtick is that they sell items made by people in developing countries so they use a lot of guilt and religious crap to pressure people into buying the items. We were told to post things on Facebook like "help this family out of poverty one bracelet at a time" etc. I finally noped out after realizing that their method is stupid and sustainable development can be found in ways that don't require me to guilt my friends and family into having stupid online parties. As MLMs go, the buy in is $150 so people don't lose their houses over this. The website is $12 or $13 a month. So not like lularoe requiring $4000+ buy ins but it's def an MLM, there's a lot of pressure to recruit and maintain a downline.

If you want to learn more about Trades of Hope, Hannah Alonzo recently posted a terrific deep dive into the company. Her analysis includes a critique of the company's recruitment structure, as well as critical commentary on how the entire operation oozes with "White savior complex."