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Fair Trade Products: A Cool Way to Buy
Fair Trade: What Is It, and Why?
Fair Trade is a business model that promotes healthy relationships with producers in developing regions. The model is rooted in Post-World War II efforts in Europe and the U.S. to bring regional crafts to a wider market. Although many of the earliest pioneers were churches and missionaries, Fair Trade has since become a secular movement.
The Fair Trade model is based on cooperation between consumers and producers, working toward these goals:
- Healthy international exchange based on fair business practices.
- Producers are exposed to the world market, and are supported in their efforts to improve their businesses and increase their profits.
- Worker-owned businesses are promoted.
- Workers are paid a fair wage, suitable to their location. A region's minimum wage typically does not provide enough to live on. A living wage provides enough for basic food, clothing, shelter, education and healthcare. Under Fair Trade, workers receive at least their region's minimum wage -- but the goal is to pay a living wage.
- Workers enjoy safe, healthy working conditions, and opportunities for promotion.
What Can I Buy?
Coffee, tea and chocolate are the best known items. But a vast array of foods, garments, handicrafts, housewares and flowers are also available. The list grows.
Sweet. But Maybe Too Expensive for Us Common Folk?
Actually, since Fair Trade Organizations work directly with the producers, middleman costs are cut drastically or eliminated altogether. Prices are market rate, and bargains do happen.
Quality of goods is generally excellent. Sustainable farming is encouraged, so many, but not all, of the agricultural products are organic -- if you're looking for organic goods, check the label.
On the business side, producers typically receive a higher percentage of the profit, since little or none of it goes to middlemen.
LOOK FOR THE LABEL! The Transfair label (above) can be found on Fair Trade foods. The Fairtrade label (below) is used for Fair Trade commodities.
From the Producer to You
Two types of Fair Trade organizations work with producers:
Organizational Evaluators screen and evaluate producers to make sure they are committed to the concept, values and goals of Fair Trade. Evaluators support producers in their efforts, either directly or by referral to other helper organizations and by promoting Fair Trade. The International Fair Trade Organization evaluates producers for consumers outside of North America. The North American evaluator is the Fair Trade Federation.