In the United States, we’ve gotten accustomed to cheap prices and free two-day shipping.
But what about the people who make our products? What materials were used and how was the land treated when this product was made or grown?
In fact, what does fair trade certified mean?
Fair trade seeks to undo the negative ramifications that globalization has had on the lives of farm and factory workers by setting standards that ensure social, environmental, and economic stability.
When we purchase goods that aren’t fair trade, someone else is paying the price. A fair trade certification guarantees that certified products are created in an ethical manner that puts people and the planet first.
What Does Fair Trade Certified Mean?
Contrary to popular belief, fair trade doesn’t just address fair wages. It’s an all-encompassing framework that combats the environmental and social damage done by business-as-usual practices that focus more on financial gain than the health of people and the planet.
Fair trade certification requirements
Fair trade certification requirements vary. An array of fair trade organizations seek to secure fair wages, market prices, and sustainability in a variety of industries. You might see a few labels in the grocery store that look just similar enough to be confusing.
Fair Trade USA is the leading fair trade certifier in the US. To be Fair Trade USA Certified, a set of rigorous standards must be met. In addition to passing routine inspections of supply chains, the producers must undergo a complete assessment of environmental, social, and economic standards. This ensures that farmers are treated fairly, receive adequate wages, and that the environment isn’t being harmed.
FLOCERT is the industry standard used for certifying all businesses involved in each supply chain.
The work doesn’t stop there either. Once they’re certified, the producer has to make commitments for future years to improve their scores and extend beyond the baseline for certification.
Fairtrade International holds similar values to Fair Trade USA but doesn’t work on clothing or textiles. Fairtrade International coordinates standards and labeling across the world and prioritizes the elimination of poverty as well as worker empowerment.
What Are the Benefits of Buying Fair Trade Certified Products?
When you buy fair trade products, a ripple effect takes place. Your dollars are distributed to various entities, like the growers, the store you’re in, and the company selling the goods. Arguably the most important place it goes is into the hands of the people who made or grew your new product.
Fair trade certified products are better for workers.
Fair wages, transparent trade, and adequate working conditions hold an enormous value for the communities who spend their lives on farmland or work in factories. Entire communities are uplifted through fair trade practices because, with equitable conditions, workers can plan for their future and provide for their families.
In non-fair trade practices, employees are often at high risk for human rights abuses that include unhealthy exposure to known carcinogens and even violence.
Chiquita, the most successful banana distributor in the world, funded a terrorist organization in Colombia and oversaw horrific working conditions for farmers, many of whom never recovered. Unfortunately, poor working conditions like this aren’t isolated to the agricultural industry. Garment factories have infamously awful working conditions that have led to fatal fires and building collapses.
The use of pesticides is another key difference between fair trade and the alternative. In fair trade production, workers are given regular medical examinations and are well-educated in the potential risks of their position. This translates to other areas as well. Fair trade means there is no child labor, workers are given adequate time off, and the conditions of the work are clear to everyone involved.
Fair trade certified products are better for the planet.
Fair trade doesn’t mean that a product is organic, but it is possible for products to hold both certifications.
Thanks to fair trade, the environment is protected through a series of measures that prevent further damage. The use of genetically modified seeds is prohibited, bio-diversity is protected, and soil erosion is actively prevented. There is zero tolerance for deforestation or degradation of the local land. The pesticides used on fair trade certified farms are approved in advance, only used in specific conditions, and applied in a way that minimizes risk for farmers and crops.
The fair trade model weaves environmental sustainability into the production of goods, instead of exploiting the land to produce goods. When companies and producers obtain fair trade certifications, they elevate the standards for the entire industry, benefitting the whole planet.
Fair trade certified products are better for the consumer.
Fair trade allows customers to shop with their values in mind, connect with the growers and manufacturers of their goods, and contribute to an economy that supports workers. In many ways, it can be seen as a redistribution of wealth around the world, instead of blindly supporting companies with poor practices.
When you buy a product that is fair trade certified, a portion typically goes to a community development fund for that particular producer.
In the Philippines, coconut farmers chose to allocate their funds to a school lunch program for malnourished children.
In an Indian textile factory, workers decided to pool together their funds for gas stoves to improve health and quality of life.
Every time we purchase a fair trade product, we support projects like these that improve communities around the world.
How Can I Tell if Something Is Fair Trade Certified?
Fair trade certification has expanded far past organic ground coffee, fair trade organic whole bean coffee, and decadent chocolate covered almonds. The label now graces everything from bananas to jeans, skincare, tea, and clothing. Check the front or back of products in the grocery store to look for any of the fair trade labels. Some stores may keep these items in the organic section, although not all fair trade products are organic. Be sure to read up on the company you’re purchasing from.
There is a notable distinction between fair trade and Fairtrade. Fair trade can be used by anyone, whereas Fairtrade is only used by products and organizations in the Fairtrade International System.
Use the Fair Trade Shopping Guide to find gifts or ethical alternatives to everyday items. You might be surprised at the brands you see! West Elm, Patagonia, Madewell, and Kashi are just some of the thousands of brands committed to equity in their production and sustainable retail.
Check your kitchen for products that you might not have known are already free trade, like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, which puts farmers first by sourcing ingredients that help build up local communities.
Public Goods Collaborates with Fair Trade USA and Fairtrade International
Although fair trade certified products can cost slightly more, consider the alternative. When you purchase a shirt, bag of coffee beans, or a bunch of bananas that uses the status quo or unsustainable practices, there’s no guarantee that those producers felt safe at work, weren’t exposed to health-altering chemicals, or paid a living wage to support their families.
Since the United States purchases so many goods and consistently ranks as one of the richest countries in the world per capita, we can help distribute the wealth a bit more by purchasing products that benefit those who make them.
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