What is Fair Trade?

by JulieCraves on February 2, 2006

Worldwide, habitat destruction is the leading cause of bird population declines and loss of biodiversity.  The link between poverty and environmental degradation is inescapable.  Making sure that coffee farmers receive a living wage is one way to help preserve habitat — both by  encouraging sustainable coffee farming methods that produce the highest quality coffee, and by empowering farmers economically and reducing their need to exploit the environment for survival.  Here is some background information on Fair Trade.

Fair Trade: What it does
Fair Trade helps small producers of various goods and agricultural products avoid exploitation.  Global Exchange, an excellent resource, lists these Fair Trade principals:

  • Producers receive a fair price; for commodities, farmers receive a stable, minimum price.
  • No forced or child labor allowed.
  • Working conditions are safe and healthy.
  • Equal employment opportunities are provided for all.
  • Buyers and producers trade under direct long-term relationships.
  • Producers have access to financial and technical assistance.
  • All aspects of trade and production are open to public accountability.
  • Sustainable production techniques are encouraged. NOTE: This does not mean that Fair Trade certified coffee was grown under strict environmental standards. See this post for more about the environmental criteria for Fair Trade certification.

Fair Trade certification

Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International sets standards and certifies. In order to reduce consumer confusion, it is working on using one label (the one in color here on the left) for Fair Trade products.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Fair Trade USA (formerly TransFair USA) places this black and white “Fair Trade Certified” label (right) on coffee, chocolate, and other commodoties. It only indicates that the labeled product is Fair Trade, not that all products from the same company are Fair Trade.

NOTE: As of January 1, 2012, Fair Trade USA will no longer be a member of FLO. See this post for more information.

Because Fair Trade certification can be expensive, and is available only to cooperatives, it is unavailable to some farms who may have otherwise qualified.  An interesting article at Reason Magazine highlights some of these types of Fair Trade issues.  Some roasters gather together to pay fair trade prices — or more — to growers, even though their coffees are not officially certified.  See Cooperative Coffees for an example.

More resources on Fair Trade:

Revised on November 14, 2019

Posted in Background information,Fair and Direct Trade

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