What is fair trade anyway? I had a pretty good idea of what it was but didn’t know a lot of the important details. What are the standards and who set them? Is use of the term regulated?
Many food items we regularly enjoy require tropical growing conditions. Coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas, sugar, etc. are all items that must be grown outside of the US, often coming from South America of Africa. Companies in these industries have earned a bad reputation for the way they treat the workers who make these commodities available to us. Conditions are said to be a “sweatshop” on a plantation. Workers earn just pennies (in Kenya the average coffee farmer earns just $12 a month, less than the country’s minimum wage standard) and frequently work in unsafe conditions. In most of these areas there aren’t any “workers rights” and companies can get away with just about anything. They damage the local economy and environment, taking away opportunities for other employment, so workers have no choice.
The idea of fair trade started in the 1940’s with religious organizations who sought to create a supply chain of craft goods where the workers were treated well and paid a fair wage. Grassroots movements toward fair trade started popping up across the US and Europe, along with lots of attempts to market products as fair trade. But without standards, labeling did not mean much. In 1997 the convergence of these movements led to the creation of Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International, the first organization to create standards for fair trade labeling and certify producers who meet or exceed standards.
Standards don’t just guarantee workers a livable wage. They ban child and slave labor, require safe working conditions, and give workers the right to unionize. Certification also ensures fair purchasing practices throughout the supply chain, making sure the the true cost of production is factored into the price, including the cost of environmental conservation.
If you are interested in purchasing more items fair trade, be on the lookout for this label, the Fair Trade Certified Mark for the US and Canada: