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eBay to unveil fair-trade marketplace

Robert Chatwani, eBay's general manager of, talks about how the online auctioneer plans to cater to the "social conscious" consumer.

SAN MATEO, Calif.--Catering to a rising tide of socially-conscious shoppers, eBay this summer plans to help publicly launch, a marketplace for buying fair-trade products, according to Robert Chatwani, eBay's general manager of the project.

eBay, in partnership with a separate fair-trade company World of Good Inc., has already built a community site for people interested in goods that are made of recycled materials or produced by fairly treated workers, for example. But the two organizations plan to open a shopping site that will cater to these "social change consumers," Chatwani said here Tuesday at the Dow Jones Environment Conference.

That segment of shopper spends as much as $45 billion on green products annually, he estimated.

"Those people aren't on eBay. We believe only between 7 and 12 percent of these social change consumers are eBay users now ... so this could be accretive to the business," Chatwani said on a panel at the two-day conference.

Chatwani helped conceive of the idea for the marketplace three years ago while traveling to India with fellow eBay employees. There, they found some sustainably made artisan products they believed would sell online, and could give some money back to the creator. They tested the idea and it worked. Bay teamed up with World of Good, a group designed to alleviate poverty in third worlds by helping sell local artists' goods globally.

Chatwani said is only one project inside eBay that's focused on social change. Historically, eBay has been what he called a low-carbon company, built with more efficient online practices and an emphasis on technologies that are good for the world. But eBay also operates explicitly more charitable projects.

Those include MicroPlace, a micro-finance site for people to invest in entrepreneurs in the developing world. It also runs eBay Giving Works, a shopping site that lets buyers and sellers donate a percentage of sales to a charity. Chatwani said that that site has raised more than $120 million for charities.

For its part, will focus on giving people more information about products--where they come from, how they're made, and how they effect the environment, Chatwani said.

"Our challenge is not so much about getting people to spend more. It's about introducing alternative forms of consumption," he said.