Fair Trade 101: What is it & why is it so important?

by Daria Mitsos

Certified fair trade coffee. Fair trade produce, clothing, jewelry, and more. You may have noticed the small emblem on products you’ve purchased and although you probably recognize it as a good (slightly more expensive) thing, you may not know what it means and why it is so important.

Fair trade is a movement making waves around the globe.  It is made up of a diverse network of producers, shoppers, advocates, and organizations focused on putting people and the planet first.  Specifically, it focuses on promoting sustainable and dignified employment for people in marginalized areas who may struggle with the chains of poverty. 

Any organization that is certified or verified as fair trade must comply by the ten principles set by the World Fair Trade Organization.  These principles exist to ensure that not only are the people who are employees, employers, and producers of a product taken care, but that our environment is as well.

Fair Trade Principles

Principle One: Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers

Principle Two: Transparency and Accountability

Principle Three: Fair Trading Practices

Principle Four:   Payment of a Fair Price

Principle Five:  Ensuring no Child Labor and Forced Labor

Principle Six:  Commitment to Non-Discrimination, Gender Equity and Freedom of Association

Principle Seven:  Ensuring Good Working Conditions

Principle Eight:  Providing Capacity Building

Principle Nine:  Promoting Fair Trade

Principle Ten: Respect for the Environment

To be able to claim a product as “Fair Trade Certified,” producers must adhere to all ten principles throughout the production process. 

Why is Fair Trade Important?

First and foremost, the standards for which employees are treated in the production of Fair Trade Certified products are much higher than common working conditions in developing countries.  We often hear of sweat shops and child labor in high density countries where poverty is rampant.  Through fair trade, these practices are eliminated.  

It also provides equal opportunity for those workers who may have a disability that would otherwise leave them jobless.  Employees, owners, and producers are typically paid three to five times more than the average wage in their country, allowing them to break the chains of poverty.  

Another aspect of fair trade that is important is that it helps fight human trafficking.  It is common to see those bound by trafficking in poor working conditions, including brothels and forced labor. Through fair trade principles, these practices are not only forbidden, but they often work to rescue those stuck in such situations. 

Keep an eye out for products labeled FAIR TRADE CERTIFIED everywhere you shop. You may be surprised how many places you see it and on the wide range of products stamped with the respected emblem. Next month, we will explore HOW to shop fair trade.