#1Thing: What It Means To Be Fair Trade

January 22, 2020
Fair Trade Coffee

(Photo: Santje09/Getty Images)


By Lori Melton

Thanks to increased awareness of the harsh effects of climate change on our planet, people around the world are pitching in to protect the Earth for future generations. Recycling, repurposing and reusing items are simple actions we can take to help reduce the amount of trash going into landfills that will eventually pollute the ocean.

Many people don’t realize that every product we buy also impacts the environment. For instance, we should stop using plastic straws and start using stainless ones. We can also buy Fair Trade Certified products. But what is Fair Trade and why is it important?

What Is Fair Trade?

President and CEO Paul Rice launched Fair Trade USA in 1998 in California. Rice founded the life-changing organization after he successfully recruited a growing group of coffee farmers in Nicaragua to commit to using fair trade practices during an 11-year stay, which began in 1983.

 A product doesn’t feature a Fair Trade Certified symbol for bragging rights. The governing organization defines fair trade as “a global movement made up of a diverse network of producers, companies, shoppers, advocates, and organizations putting people and planet first.” Today, the seal represents “thousands of products, improving millions of lives, protecting land and waterways in 45 countries and counting.”

Simply put, fair trade products and practices help provide a living wage and safe working conditions for farmers and producers in developing countries. Any item that bears the Fair Trade Certified seal means that it meets rigorous standards. Products like coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa, rice, fresh fruit, vanilla, sugar, flowers, and clothing are some of the most common fair trade products that consumers can buy.

Impacts of Fair Trade

Fair trade positively impacts communities all over the world. Strict fair trade standards ensure that farmers, fishermen, workers, and producers earn a fair price for goods sold that enables them to compete in a crowded global marketplace. They also earn an extra amount, called Community Development Funds, to put back into the community.

This payment system helps participants build a stable life. It also allows them to invest in their work and the local community. Maintaining personal financial security and deciding how to distribute their Fair Trade Community Development Funds empowers producers to make choices that will help themselves and others thrive.  

Ultimately, when fair trade farmers, fishermen, and other workers invest in their community, they help meet the needs of those around them. For example, they might invest in better education, clean water, or healthcare for community members. Taking these kinds of actions helps combat poverty and illness in the places they live and work.

Finally, following Fair Trade standards protect workers and the environment. Fair Trade Certified farms, production, packing plants, and housing are monitored to make sure working and living environments are sanitary and safe. Under these guidelines, child and slave labor are prohibited. Workers also follow safety practices, like using protective equipment.

To promote environmental sustainability, toxic chemicals are prohibited, pesticide exposure is limited, and businesses take measures to conserve resources like water and energy.

Ways You Can Help

Whenever you buy a Fair Trade Certified product or purchase an item from a company that implements fair trade practices, you are backing a global mission to effect positive change. You are also helping to fight poverty, secure a better life for people in underdeveloped countries, and protect the environment.

New farms, producers, and companies are continuously getting Fair Trade Certified. Major retailers like Kroger, Target, Amazon, Whole Food Markets, ALDI, and more sell Fair Trade Certified goods. To support the cause, look for and buy items with the Fair Trade seal on produce, chocolate, clothing, and other items while you are shopping. Every fair trade purchase can make a positive difference. Visit Fair Trade USA’s product page and shopping guides for more information.