It’s likely many casual coffee drinkers would never notice a small, rectangular symbol on the bag of their favorite morning java. At first thought, the phrase “Fair Trade” conjures up an image of two individuals shaking hands and smiling after exchanging their products: a sign of mutual respect and goodwill. But what makes Fair Trade “fair?” Here are some quick Fair Trade facts:
- Fair Trade is a business model based on equality and economic justice with a focus on connecting consumers to producers by ensuring a consumer’s “day-to-day purchases can improve an entire community” of producers’ “day-to-day lives,” according to Fair Trade USA. This is done by ensuring producers are treated fairly at all intersections of the trading process.
- The Fair Trade model was inspired by the cooperative model, a business model which attempts to build up communities by keeping capital within the community which created it. This results in sustainable businesses which promote access to education and improved health for their communities as a market-based solution to poverty.
- Businesses are certified as Fair Trade through internationally-recognized certification organizations, such as Fair Trade USA and Fair Trade International, who audit supply chains and ensure transparency and traceability of materials. This guarantees exploitative practices such as forced labor or child slavery are minimized. Consumers can usually recognize Fair Trade products by the certifying organization’s label on the packaging.
- Fair Trade products can be found in almost every sector of the economy, from clothing and coffee to flowers and beauty products. Websites like The Good Trade help consumers locate products embodying Fair Trade ethics, while organizations such as The Human Thread advocate for companies to ensure their supply chains use Fair Trade standards.
- According to 2013 figures from Fair Trade International, there was a total of 30,000 Fair Trade International certified products being sold worldwide, with a retail sales total of 5.5 billion Euros, a growth of 15 percent from the previous year.
These Fair Trade facts should serve as a general guide for those unfamiliar with the concept. The Fair Trade movement is important because it connects consumers to the production process in a world where economies of scale and an open world market limit contact. Producers create products to earn a living, but consumers can choose the products they purchase. This gives consumers the power to, as Fair Trade USA describes it, “vote” with their money on products which embody their own values. A vote for a non-Fair Trade certified product doesn’t necessarily mean a vote for exploitation and inequity, but a vote for a Fair Trade product knowing all the Fair Trade facts is a vote for a system which promotes transparency and economic justice.
– Lucas Woodling