SixEight Life


{SCS} Getting Started: Fair Trade Basics

You probably have heard the term ‘fair trade’. (not to be confused with ‘Free trade’ which I hear a lot) If you spend any time with me you probably have heard the term so many times you’re sick of it. (I apologize for that…. my only excuse is that I’m a talker and I’m passionate)

But what does ‘Fair Trade’ really mean? What are the basics of this interesting business sector that is growing exponentially in our nation? I wasn’t fully able to explain it myself, so I did some research.

Photo credit: Fair Trade USA

At its core, the definition of fair trade is pretty self explanatory: it means that the product has been traded fairly. The producers, suppliers and companies all were active participants in the product’s journey to the store shelf. For example, the coffee grower in Rwanda that harvested the beans for your Green Mountain fair trade coffee was included in the trading process and was paid a fair price for his beans. The little logo you see on some products (note the picture) at the grocery store is regulated by Fair Trade USA. Fair Trade USA is a third party entity that certifies companies’ products and ethics. Fair Trade USA has nine guiding principles that help them determine if a product is, in fact, traded fairly. You can check out their website for the nine principles.

Another organization that certifies fair trade companies is The World Fair Trade Organization. They are similar to Fair Trade USA, but are a global entity and have been around a lot longer. The awesome Fair Trade store Ten Thousand Villages is one of the founding members of this organization. All participants agree to adhere to ten principles of fair trade, which are the following (commentary is mine):

1. Creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers: ie: identify people who are in poverty, create opportunity for them.

2. Transparency and Honesty: tell the truth about your supplies

3. Fair Trading practices: don’t increase your profit at the expense of the actual producers of the product. Don’t take advantage. 

4. Payment of a fair price: don’t cheat people. Pay a living wage price for the products.

5. Ensuring no child labor or forced labor: This one is really self explanatory. Don’t use children or slaves to make your products. 

6. Commitment to non discrimination, gender equality and freedom of association: also self explanatory. Don’t discriminate. Treat everyone equally. 

7. Ensure good working conditions: No sweatshops. No unsanitary conditions. Adhere to local and international laws relating to safety in working environments. 

8. Promote capacity building: give your workers opportunities, see that they grow professionally. Help them succeed. 

9. Promote Fair Trade: use your business as a platform to encourage others to participate in fair trade practices. 

10. Respect for the environment: Don’t intentionally and knowingly deplete our world of natural resources. Conserve when you can. 

The funny thing to me after reading all these principles is that they are common sense. Most people I know would agree that they would want those principles applied to their workplace. The sad thing is that this is not the case in US owned companies around the world. Fair Trade has risen from the desire to include all participants in trade. Its designed to avoid exploitation of the vulnerable. Its a great model. It’s not perfect, but a third party regulation helps consumers feel confident that they are purchasing products that help people.

When you purchase fair trade coffee, that extra couple dollars you spend helps send that coffee farmer’s child to school. When you put down the Hershey’s and spend an extra 75 cents on a fair trade chocolate bar, you could be helping a single mom buy medicine for her children. It certainly makes my chocolate taste much sweeter.

Do you know of a fair trade company or supplier? I’m making a list of fair trade products and companies and would love your input. Leave your comments below, I’d love to hear from you.

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