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What is Fair Trade and why should we care?

Updated on October 8, 2014
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An environmental enthusiast and activist her entire adult life, Kathryn shares her secrets to reducing waste and living greener.

The Fair Trade symbol on a product means people and the planet are as important as profits to that company

Fair Trade is about buying food and products that were grown and manufactured without harming people or the environment that sustains us all.

Take the bananas in my fruit bowl. That sticker certifies they were grown on a plantation that pays its workers a fair wage for their labor and does not exploit them.

The Fair Trade stamp at the bottom of the sticker tells me the plantation is inspected regularly and the owners must show they do not expose their workers to dangerous pesticides or other chemicals that could make them ill, even kill them. It also tells me the plantation does not pour pollutants into streams, groundwater or air while growing and processing its fruit.

On this page, learn more about Fair Trade and what it means to you and me. You will also find links to excellent sites to help you in your journey to an ever more sustainable, just and conscious lifestyle. First up: Why it pays to pay a wee bit more for your bananas.

How familiar are you with the concept of Fair Trade?

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Fair Trade is a new concept for many of us

Harriet Lamb's book is a good read and a good place to start learning why it's so important.

Full of first-person accounts that paint graphic pictures, Fighting the Banana Wars is a primer you can't put down and won't soon forget. In her forward, Lamb explains Fair Trade shopping this way:

"Which is perhaps why, for so many people in such very different circumstances right across the world, Fairtrade can become an addictive habit. You start by savouring a really good cup of Fairtrade coffee or some luscious chocolate; it's delicious and it's just basic common sense that farmers and workers should get paid a fair price for it. Why wouldn't you choose Fairtrade, all things being equal?"

Fighting the Banana Wars and Other Fairtrade Battles
Fighting the Banana Wars and Other Fairtrade Battles

Lamb's first-hand experiences with the workers who produce our cheap food and goods is what intrigued me about this book. I will never look at a t-shirt, candy bar or cup of coffee again without thinking of the workers who brought it to me.

 

Meet Bernadette, the Fair Trade banana, and Carlos, the conventional banana

Together, they'll take us to a banana plantation where we can see firsthand why we need more bananas like Bernadette.

Fair trade is about ...

Fair compensation for workers

Protecting our soil, air and water.

No child slaves laboring in horrible conditions so my family and I can eat and dress well.

Why does Fair Trade matter so much that I am willing to pay a premium for my bananas?

Fruit bowl with organic and fair trade fruit
Fruit bowl with organic and fair trade fruit | Source

If the video above did not convince you, let me answer that question with a couple of questions.

Could you bite into one more banana, knowing there is a strong possibility the workers who grew, harvested and processed it were as young as eight years old, worked twelve hour days, and were exposed to deadly toxins with little or no protection?

Could you bite into it knowing that very likely, when workers got the cancers associated with those deadly toxins and were too ill to work, they lost their jobs, could no longer contribute support to their families, and received no medical care because they had no health insurance?

I can not. I'm willing to pay a little more for bananas that bear the Whole Trade Guarantee® or the Fair Trade Certified™ sticker because I know no human being was harmed just so I could have a ready supply of delectable fruit on the cheap.

The same goes for the tea, cocoa and coffee I drink, for the clothing I purchase, and for the toys I buy my grandchildren.

"Every purchase matters. With the Fair Trade Certified label, you get quality products that improve lives and protect the environment. The money you spend on day-to-day goods can improve an entire community's day-to-day lives."

Fair Trade USA

New to the idea of Fair Trade? Or is it old hat for you?

If you're new to the idea of Fair Trade, you're in good company. It's a concept that's been around a while, but not hit the mainstream consciousness--yet. But maybe you've been choosing Fair Trade products long before there was a certifying organization.

How can we tell a product was grown and manufactured fairly?

The Fair Trade mark on your food, clothing and other products tells you they were grown and manufactured with care for the workers and the environment
The Fair Trade mark on your food, clothing and other products tells you they were grown and manufactured with care for the workers and the environment | Source

Look for the Fair Trade logo

Look at the label on your t-shirt, socks, sneakers, sheets. If they bear a Fair Trade Certified™ label, chances are they were manufactured with care for both the employees and the environment. That means no children worked in near slave conditions, and no toxins were dumped in nearby rivers or pumped into the groundwater after dark.

Products that strengthen us and our communities

With fair trade, what we get are beautiful products that allow us to give back to the communities and strengthen them. ... Non-fair-trade products are just about the products.

Manish Gupta, founder of Handmade Expressions, as quoted in
Fairwashing by Megy Karydes
New Age Retailer, July-August 2011

What it takes to get certified

Is Fair Trade certification foolproof? No, but manufacturers and producers must go through a rigorous and costly application process to assure they've met minimum standards.

Take a look at the story behind Maggie's Organics. Now I admit, this 17-minute video has some of the earmarks of a marketing department production and leaves a few unanswered questions. Nevertheless, it tells a remarkable story, and I'm betting you'll be glad you watched it all the way to the end.

The question is: What difference will we make?

Dr. Jane Goodall with Gombe chimpanzee Freud © Michael Neugebauer
Dr. Jane Goodall with Gombe chimpanzee Freud © Michael Neugebauer | Source

Listen to Jane Goodall on that

In A Conversation about Peace during Peace Week 2011, Dr. Goodall said,

There are thousands of people today who do really care about the problems of the planet, but they feel helpless. They don't know what to do. And you know you can say, okay, every day you make a difference, and they think to themselves, yes, but what difference, and I think the answer is, just spend a bit of time thinking about, and that may mean learning about as well, but thinking about the consequences of the choices you make each day. What do you buy? Food. Clothes. Where did it come from? Did it harm the environment? Was it child slave labor? Was it inflicting horrible cruelty on farm animals?

Ask these kind of questions. How far has it come, and did it waste air miles? Could you have bought it locally? As you interact with people, what sort of interaction are you going to have? If you find an animal that needs help, are you going to help it, or just leave it? Just these little things about your daily behavior, and it doesn't seem much, but it can lead to bigger and bigger change, and millions and millions of small changes that are ethical decisions can begin to create the kind of planet that we must create if we care about the future.

Recorded on September 17 during Peace Week 2011. You may have to register to access the recording linked above. Registration is free. Once you get to the linked page, scroll down to "Recorded on Saturday, September 17th 2011." An audio recording of Dr. Goodall's conversation is in that short list.

How difficult is it to find Fair Trade Certified products?

The answer is: Somewhat, but they're there if you look for them.

The more we ask our retailers and suppliers for Fair Trade Certified™ products, the more we get. In fact, on July 11, 2014, the web site Blue and Green Tomorrow quoted a new report that shows our demand for ethical products and foods is so great, we've established a profitable--and growing--market for them.

Today, according to Fair Trade US (FTUS), there are more than 10,000 certified products available worldwide, and more than 7,000 available in the United States. Not only that, but FTUS makes it easy to find Fair Trade Certified™ brands of the products you buy most frequently in these seventeen categories.

  1. Apparel & Linens
  2. Beans & Grains
  3. Body Care
  4. Cocoa
  5. Coffee
  6. Flowers & Plants
  7. Fruits & Vegetables
  8. Herbs & Spices
  9. Honey
  10. Multi-Ingredient Foods
  11. Nuts and Oils
  12. Seeds
  13. Spirits
  14. Sports balls
  15. Sugar
  16. Tea
  17. Wine

Organic & Fair Trade Certified Teas
Organic & Fair Trade Certified Teas | Source

Did you catch those statistics above? Fair Trade is a global phenomenon

US consumers have access to about 7,000 Fair Trade Certified products, while worldwide, the number is 10,000. To find them all, try searching on this Fair Trade Federation page where you can search for member organizations by country and product type.

More resources

The following resources provide just about everything you might want to know about Fair Trade.

You can find organic and fair trade coffee in many supermarkets today

But if your local store doesn't carry it yet, do ask them to source some good shade-grown, Fair Trade, organic coffee beans for you. These are just two examples of some of the best gourmet, organic and Fair Trade Certified coffee on the market today.

Organic coffee from small Guatemalan farms

Order a bag today and taste the rich flavor, with just a hint of chocolate.

You'll need a grinder, if you don't have one. Whole beans are the way to go for the best coffee.

Worker-owned Equal Exchange, a for-profit company

Equal Exchange is a profit-making company that is owned by its workers and markets only Fair Trade products.

When you buy their products, you know that all the workers involved, US and overseas, are fairly compensated.

Fair trade practices are those which harm neither people nor the planet

How frequently do you buy Fair Trade products? Will you buy more going forward?

How important is to you to buy Fair Trade products?

See results

Deavas Belgian Fair Trade Chocolates Gift Box - Available during the winter holidays

Who doesn't love fine Belgian chocolates, but during the holidays, so difficult to find! Sign up to be notified as soon as these extra special Fair Trade chocolates become available for holiday gifting..

Deavas Belgian Fairtrtade Chocolates Holiday Gift Box 1lb box
Deavas Belgian Fairtrtade Chocolates Holiday Gift Box 1lb box

One of the reviewers says it all: "Each piece was more delicious than the one before it! I can't wait till the holidays so I can get more. They make SUPERB gifts, too! "

 

What do you think of Fair Trade now?

© 2012 Kathryn Grace

I'd love to know you stopped by. Won't you sign my guest book?

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    • ecogranny profile image
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      Kathryn Grace 16 months ago from San Francisco

      Thank you. I agree. Thankfully, many US supermarkets do now have an organic produce section, some much smaller than others, I fear.

    • ecogranny profile image
      Author

      Kathryn Grace 2 years ago from San Francisco

      @techygran and @rebeccamealey, little makes me happier in my writing world than responses like yours. It's tough keeping to a Fair Trade commitment, I know. We need to stick together, so please never hesitate to contact me for support. Perhaps we can help each other find the products we need, especially during this holiday season.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 2 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Thanks for a good lesson. I have learned something here, and will be looking for the symbols.

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 2 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      Very informative and interesting article on Fairtrade. I have fallen away a bit from my original intentions and plan to get right back up on the Fairtrade horse after reading this. I enjoyed the video that showed the women in the spinners' guild in Nicaragua building their own business, even the factory to do it! Wow! And your fruit photo is very alluring! Thank you! Voted you up and awesome, shared, tweeted and pinned! ~Cynthia

    • ecogranny profile image
      Author

      Kathryn Grace 2 years ago from San Francisco

      They are usually difficult to find, Sandy. We get more and more of them today, than twenty years ago. The most common place to find the Fair Trade label is on chocolate or coffee. If you have a supermarket that features organic coffees and chocolate in addition to conventional, look for the Fair Trade label on those products. If you don't see it, ask the manager to source a brand that is both organic AND Fair Trade.

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 2 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      I am not sure, but don't think that I have seen the fair trade label on products here. We should care.

    • trigalak profile image

      Sasa Sijak 2 years ago

      Organic food should be available in most of supermarkets because it is healthy and nutritious. Great idea!

    • ecogranny profile image
      Author

      Kathryn Grace 2 years ago from San Francisco

      Brite-Ideas, thank you. You're in luck! Fair Trade International has a Canadian wing. Go to www.fairtrade.ca/ to learn all about their programs there and to find retailers who stock FT products.

      Cassandra, I do too! The way to make that happen is to ask for them and then to buy them. The more we consumers vote with our dollars, the more we can get what we want.

    • CassandraCae profile image

      Cassandra Kuthy 2 years ago from Ohio

      I wish we had more of these types of products in my supermarket.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 2 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Not sure if we have this in Canada, but I love this idea - I'll be looking for it when I'm south of the border, fantastic idea - more people need to know about this

    • ecogranny profile image
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      Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      @GeorgeneMBramlage: My pleasure!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Granted, I don't live in the most progressive town in the world (Selma, Alabama, USA), but I have never seen a product with a Fair Trade sticker on it. I am woefully ignorant about Fair Trade and will make it a priority to learn more. Graceonline, thanks for your work on this issue.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile image

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 3 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      Thank you for writing a lens about such an important topic.

    • ecogranny profile image
      Author

      Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

      @anonymous: You are welcome, Dave. Finding Fair Trade products still requires effort. They are definitely not on every shelf. (Sigh) Thank you for visiting and for wanting to learn more. Do let me know if the links I supplied were sufficient or if you would like more depth.

    • ecogranny profile image
      Author

      Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

      @Brandi Bush: You're welcome. Thank you for stopping by.

    • ecogranny profile image
      Author

      Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

      @anonymous: You are welcome. Sadly, the United States has fallen behind in leadership in many areas where social justice is concerned. I am continuously heartened by the number of ordinary people, both US citizens and from around the world, who risk their lives and financial security to assure that more and more of us have the information we need to do the right thing.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge and research on a very important topic. Now I know what to look for while shopping. It is amazing to find out we are far behind Europe when it comes to all these issues. Meanwhile we are supposed to be the leader.

    • Brandi Bush profile image

      Brandi 4 years ago from Maryland

      I love fair trade products...thanks for this informative lens! :)

    • ecogranny profile image
      Author

      Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

      @SteveKaye: You're welcome. Thanks for visiting this lens.

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 4 years ago

      Thank you for publishing this article on this vital topic.

    • FanfrelucheHubs profile image

      Nathalie Roy 4 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      I do try to buy many fair trade and eco friendly products. Most supermarket now carry a large selection of them. It is alos easy to find handcrafted gifts that are fair trade online. Just need to be careful and read label and only buy from well known fair trade labels (there is scam, a few one were exposed last year in France).

    • ecogranny profile image
      Author

      Kathryn Grace 5 years ago from San Francisco

      @Diana Wenzel: So funny. Not your comment, but that I just replied to another of yours on this page with the words, "I deeply appreciate ...".

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 5 years ago from Colorado

      I deeply appreciate the importance of the topics you feature. Ultimately, fair trade is about our humanity. What could be more important?

    • kislanyk profile image

      Marika 5 years ago from Cyprus

      Some great info here on fair trade.

    • ecogranny profile image
      Author

      Kathryn Grace 5 years ago from San Francisco

      @aesta1: Thank you so much for saying so! Much appreciated.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      It is always good to find lenses that bring to our awareness things like Fair Trade.

    • JohnTannahill profile image

      John Tannahill 5 years ago from Somewhere in England

      Same as before, I love the Fair Trade movement.

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Great lens. It's really good for raising awareness.