How Fair Trade Is Changing the World

Fairtrade Foundation LogoConcern over the environment regularly appears as a subject in news headlines, and buzzwords related to it continue to arise, some of which are not fully understood or explained by the media. One such term that can be seen on packaging, ranging from coffee to bath and body products, is fair trade. However, many may not fully understand exactly what fair trade means.

While the Fairtrade Foundation was founded in 1992, the origins of fair trade practices date as far back as the 1940s in the United States and the 1950s in Europe. Fair trade began as a way to advocate for workers in third world countries who needed to sustain themselves while avoiding exploitation.

Fairtrade Certification Process

Fairtrade certified products fall into one of 20 different groups covered by Fairtrade International standards. The standards apply to individual workers, small producer organizations, and contract producers. They also pertain to textile and climate standards. Each one plays an integral role in ensuring the success of the Fairtrade certification process.

Fairtrade certified items must meet certain environmental, economical, and community standards prior to being permitted to carry the Fairtrade label. Compliance criteria consist of two types—core and major. Core criteria include the main fair trade principles that must be adhered to, while the major criteria are fair trade principles that should be adhered to and that are subject to sanctions for non-compliance.

How Fairtrade Certification Helps the Environment

Due to the stringent standards that must be met to in order to obtain Fairtrade certification, the environment greatly benefits from the promotion of and adherence to these standards. Specifically, fair trade standards aim to protect the world’s water supply and forests, particularly protected areas. Fair trade has a strict no slash-and-burn policy, which is designed to protect land from farming practices that result in vegetation being cut down and set ablaze before new seeds have a chance to form.

In addition, fair trade practices strictly prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which have sparked a lot interest as of late and have not been ruled out as potential carcinogens. GMOs are not only harmful to traditional agricultural processes, but they have also been linked to numerous health problems.

Fair trade standards also detail the process for the proper management and disposal of waste as a result of agricultural manufacturing and processing. Fair trade standards spell out how these processes should function, and those farmers who stick to environmentally sound practices receive acknowledgement. Farmers are educated on how to implement these procedures and monitor their impact on the environment, as well as how to develop plans to improve efficiency while protecting the environment.

Common Misconceptions about Fairtrade

coffeeFood, particularly coffee, is one of the most popular fair trade product categories. More than 40% of Fairtrade certified famers produce coffee. However, many more products are Fairtrade certified. According to Co-operative News, lesser-known Fairtrade certified goods include vodka made with Fairtrade certified ingredients and footballs made in Pakistan by workers protected by Fairtrade labor standards.

Many people associate fair trade with organic products, although this is not always the case. Due to the fact that fair trade standards restrict the use and application methods of certain chemicals, many assume that any fair trade product is also organic. While many fair trade products certainly are organic, only those that carry the certified organic label, in addition to the fair trade label, can truly be considered organic.

Another misconception is that fair trade practices only benefit the environment. This is not true, as fair trade helps to improve local economies and the overall quality of life for farm workers. As much as fair trade is about protecting the environment, it is also about protecting the people of the world by providing education on environmentalism, as well as the opportunity for them to be fairly compensated for their time and effort.

Fair trade standards have minimum pricing built in so that purchasers are unable to lowball farmers. Fair trade’s built-in pricing stability has helped farm workers’ earnings to remain relatively stable, even in light of the recent nosedive in coffee prices as a result of a detrimental crop disease that adversely affected the supply.

Fairtrade Premium Protects Farmers

Additionally, the Fairtrade premium, or the amount paid to farmers in addition to the set product amount, serves to protect the farmers of crops that have traditionally been subject to unstable pricing. Farmers are at liberty to decide how this premium is used and are encouraged to start community co-ops to negotiate the pricing of their products. Some use the additional premium to provide health insurance for their workers and others to consult with the community on how to best use the premium. Still others use it to invest in products or processes that can improve their farming facilities.


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