What does it mean to be fair trade?

What does fair trade mean? Perhaps you have heard the term fair trade and have a vague notion of what it means, or you see it printed on your coffee bag, but aren't really sure you could explain it to someone else.

In basic terms, fair trade means that workers in developing countries are being treated fairly as they trade their goods to more developed countries. In other words, it's not okay for the rich to exploit the poor just to get what they want.

The term is mostly used around certain exports, including coffee, chocolate, sugar, flowers, and fruit. More recently it is also seen in conjunction with handicrafts, jewelry, and clothing.

fair trade coffee beans

There are many goals of fair trade, but we thought the following guidelines used by the World Fair Trade Organization is a great place to start. We've paraphrased them for you here.

One: Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers

Reducing poverty is done through offering opportunities to small producers, co-ops, and family businesses. This moves individuals from economic insecurity to self-sufficiency and ownership.

Two: Transparency and Accountability

Being open and accountable to all stakeholders is a key component to fair trade. Everyone has a right to take part in the decision making process, and there is open communication. 


Three: Fair Trading Practices

Profit can never be gained at the expense of the producers. The workers' social, economic, and environmental well-being must be taken into consideration. Contracts must be honored. Farmers and workers are paid well, not just those in management positions. Trust and honesty are cornerstone values. Additionally, respect is paid to the cultural identity of the producers.


Four: Fair Payment
A fair payment is one that has been mutually negotiated and agreed by all involved. The aim is always the payment of a Local Living Wage. Fair Payment is made up of Fair Prices, Fair Wages and Local Living Wages.


Five:  Ensuring no Child Labor or Forced Labor

Does this need to even be explained? The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children should not be employed, but should have the right to a fair education, security, and the right to play.

Forced labor is slavery, and is just wrong always, period.


Six:  Commitment to Non Discrimination, Gender Equity and Women’s Economic Empowerment, and Freedom of Association

Fair trade promotes gender equality, ensuring that women as well as men have the ability to gain access to the resources that they need to be productive and also the ability to influence the wider policy, regulatory, and institutional environment that shapes their livelihoods and lives. Equal pay for equal work. Also, workers are allowed to join unions if they desire to do so. 


Seven:  Ensuring Good Working Conditions

Every worker deserves a safe and healthy working environment, complying with local and national laws.

Eight:  Providing Capacity Building

Fair trade organizations should provide opportunities to better the skills and capabilities of their workers. There are specific activities to improve management skills and access to markets.


Nine:  Promoting Fair Trade

Participating organizations raise awareness of the aim of Fair Trade and of the need for greater justice in world trade through Fair Trade. One way this happens is by providing customers with information about itself, the products it markets, and the producers. Honest advertising and marketing techniques are always used.


Ten: Respect for the Environment

Buyers and importers of Fair Trade products give priority to buying products made from raw materials that originate from sustainably managed sources, and have the least overall impact on the environment.Production should use a minimum of energy consumption and renewable sources when possible. Pesticides should be limited or of organic nature. Packaging is often recycled or biodegradable.


fair trade chocolate

So what does all this mean to us as consumers?

It means that we have the choice to support businesses that abide by these principles. We vote with our dollars, and choosing fair trade certified goods means that we agree with the values outlined above. We can encourage our friends to make purchases that also honor the hands behind the product. Something to think about next time you drink your coffee!

We would love to hear about the Fair Trade brands that you love. Let us know in the comments below!



World Fair Trade Organization

Fair Trade Certified

Fair Trade Federation

Fair Trade Shopping Guide from The Good Trade

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