Saturday, May 13th is World Fair Trade Day. This year’s theme is Build Back Fairer. With rising inequality, persistent and worsening poverty, gender discrimination, racial injustice and climate change, the pandemic has given us a unique opportunity to rebuild our world fairer and stronger. Fair trade, which is both a philosophy and business model, sits at the intersection of economic resilience, social fairness, and environmental sustainability.

What does fair trade mean? 

In a fair trade system, farmers and producers maintain agency over their business, land, and livelihoods while gaining access to global markets. By compensating farmers and producers fairly for their work, they are insulated from volatile market conditions, which can be detrimental to the wellbeing of their businesses and communities. Ensuring a fair price also ensures equitable and sustainable trading partnerships endure. 

Fair trade:

  • raises the incomes of small-scale farmers, farmworkers, and artisans
  • equitably distributes the economic gains, opportunities, and risks associated with the production and sale of goods
  • supports democratically owned and controlled organizations
  • promotes labor rights, economic cooperation, and the right of workers to organize
  • engenders safe and sustainable farming methods and working conditions

Is it fair trade? 

Products which are created within the fair trade system or use fair trade ingredients (like cocoa) are often certified through a third-party audit to verify that a clear set of established standards has been met. Standards vary from organization to organization, so knowing what each certification entails is important. 

Recommended Fair Trade Labels

Fair for Life

  • Excludes brands with an un-remediated history of labor and environmental exploitation
  • Strong environmental standards including encouraging organic practices
  • Requires long term commitment from buyers
  • Requires physical traceability of ingredients
  • High threshold of ingredients required to use the label
  • Guarantees prices above market averages and supports direct producer negotiation of prices
  • Lacks producer representation in governance
  • For large-scale production, FFL lacks enforcement mechanisms to ensure standards are being met

The Fairtrade System

  • Producers have a strong role in governance and decision-making
  • Democratic organization is required at every level of the program
  • Producers set global minimum prices for their fair trade products
  • Strong requirements for gender equity
  • Requires long term commitment from buyers
  • Do not certify large-scale operations to protect small farmers and producers
  • For large-scale operations that are eligible for certification, the Fairtrade System does have strong standards and enforcement mechanisms
  • Only 20% of ingredients need to be fair trade for label use on a product
  • Allows brands with ongoing human rights and environmental violations to use the label

Natureland Fair

  • Owned by its farmer-members
  • Excludes brands with human rights and environmental violations from participating
  • Requires environmental standards that exceed organic requirements
  • Has a high threshold of certified ingredients before the label can be used
  • Prioritizes marginalized small-scale farmers

Small Producers’ Symbol

  • The only fair trade label developed exclusively for and by small-scale producers in the Global South and that excludes individual large farms
  • Builds capacity of the small-scale producer sector
  • Requires brands to meet a code of conduct for all business practices
  • Less specific and rigorous on labor and environmental requirements

Approach with Caution 

Products certified with this label may go beyond this certification to ensure fairness, but they also may not. Research before you buy these products or understand that this fair trade label doesn’t necessarily guarantee fair practices.

Fair Trade USA

  • Allows brands with ongoing human rights and environmental violations to use the label
  • Only 20% of ingredients must be certified
  • Neither owned nor governed by producers
  • Does not require long-term commitment by buyers
  • Does not require member organizations to be democratically controlled
  • Does not guarantee producer input into pricing
  • Certifies large-scale operations without safeguards for smallholders