Fair Trade – What Does it Mean and Why Should I Care?
You can find “fair trade” written across the label of all kinds of products these days, from coffee to t-shirts. What exactly does it mean? Why is it important to look for this term? Do we need to buy everything fair trade or just certain things?
I didn’t have any of these answers the first time I picked up a bag of fair trade coffee. I had heard a little about it and knew that people I respected talked about fair trade sometimes. I figured it must be the right thing to do. So that went on for awhile. But, as someone who is curious for a living, I had to know the facts. Here they are!
What does “fair trade” mean?
The Fair Trade Federation defines fair trade as “a more equitable and sustainable system of production and trade.” Wikipedia calls it “an organized social movement which promotes standards for international labor, environmentalism, and social policy in areas related to production of Fair trade labeled and unlabeled goods.”
Why is fair trade important?
The fair trade movement promotes and supports fair wages for workers, no matter where they are from. “Fair wages” refers to what makes sense locally. Manufacturers, artisans, and craftsmen must earn a wage that they can live on. Their earned wage must be relative to other trades in their local economic system in order for a product to be labelled “Fair trade”. Generally, this means that workers are paid 15 to 30 percent of the retail price of the goods they’re creating.
The “Fair Trade” label also applies to the environment that people work in. Fair trade organizations work hard to ensure safe working conditions for artisans, create economic stability for communities in developing countries, and improve social and humanitarian conditions in those communities. All of these efforts help ensure that the workers can continue working and earning wages.
What to buy fair trade
While it’s good to know what’s behind the production of everything you buy(every dollar, every penny is a vote!), some items are more likely than others to be produced in an environment that supports human exploitation. This could be due to unfair wages (basically slavery), unsafe working conditions, child labor, or a combination of these. These items include:
Beans & Grains
Herbs and Spices
Another way to make sure your dollars are flowing ethically is to support crafters and shop owners who only use fair trade materials in their products! Just another reason why buying handmade is the way to go.
Do you buy fair trade? Do any of the items on this list surprise you? What would you add?
Kylie Worthington is a freelance writer and blogs about natural living at Everblossom. She lives with her husband and 2-year-old son in a tiny little town in the midwest.