Understanding Fair Trade
Understanding Fair Trade
Sam Bills (Manager) gives expert video advice on: How do I know if something is Fair Trade Certified?; What is the difference between 'Fair Trade' and 'ethical trading'?; Do Fair Trade goods cost more than comparable non-fair trade goods? and more...
What is 'Fair Trade'?
Fair trade is a movement of consumers, based in countries like the U.S. and the U.K. It is a movement of consumers who appreciate the power that their purchases have, to either exploit or to empower. Our purchases have the power to exploit, or the power to empower, because we are buying things and the money that goes into all of these different countries, and has the power to build up local economies around the world. Understanding that both of those powers are present in what we purchase, fair trade is an effort to make sure that the money that we spend is going to empower rather than exploit.
What does 'Fair Trade' do?
Fair Trade is a strategy to alleviate poverty in developing regions of the world, and the strategy is very simple. If we just provide direct access to the marketplace in developing countries, by making that direct access available, producers in these developing countries would have a way to sell the things that they already make, and from that income work their way out of poverty.
What is 'Fair Trade certification'?
Certification is where a third party comes in and does the research for you, so that you know that the claim that a company is making about their product being Fair Trade is legitimate. There are two different ways that they make that certification. The first is that they certify a particular product, by following that product in the chain from producer to when it ends up on your grocery shelf, and they certify that throughout the process Fair Trade principals were being followed. The other method is that they certify an entire organization, and look at the mission, principles and the practice of an organization, and they certify that that organization is in line with the broader mission of Fair Trade. When they certify an organization, everything that that organization produces is by that method certified Fair Trade.
What does the 'Fair Trade Mark' mean?
Trans Fair is the one organisation in the U.S (they're a non-profit organization) that does Fair Trade certification. If you're in the U.S, the mark that you can trust is the Trans Fair label, which is the guy with the two buckets. But outside of the U.S, there are other marks that other countries are moving to as a way of developing a universal symbol for Fair Trade certification. That Fair Trade Mark, if you're doing shopping in the U.K, is a good way to tell that the coffee that you're buying is Fair Trade certified.
What is the difference between 'Fair Trade' and 'ethical trading'?
Fair Trade and ethical trade are certainly interrelated. Ethical trade refers to the sense that, in production of a particular product, the basic labor rights of that producer were respected. Whether that's internationally or whether that's locally. With ethical manufacturing there's the sweatshop-free movement, which means that whether it's being made in downtown L.A. or whether it's being made in China, that the sweatshirt or whatever it is that you buy wasn't made in a sweatshop. It refers to the ethical basic labor rights being observed in production, whereas Fair Trade is a particular kind of effort to work with artisans in developing countries, artisans who have been marginalized for whatever reason, and providing them direct access to markets, in addition to making sure that basic labor rights are being observed.
How is 'Fair Trade' different from 'conventional trade'?
The real distinction to be made is that Fair Trade is a more direct trade. What happens in conventional trade is, often, we buy something, but by the time it gets to us, it's gone through so many different hands, and each of those hands is taking out a chunk of the money, and sometimes an unfair chunk of the money. The difference with Fair Trade is that it is providing a more direct access point for producers in developing countries, so that they can get more of the money back from what it is that they're selling.
What products are certified Fair Trade?
Theres really— just about anything that you buy on a regular basis you can buy Fair Trade, and whats great is that these Fair Trade items that are harder to find are increasingly becoming available. And so everything from coffee, and olive oil, and fruit that we buy in the super— I mean all of these things are available Fair Trade certified. And now even our clothing companies; you can buy a Fair Trade soccer ball, I mean theres all of these new Fair Trade companies that are coming up and theyve been making these kind of things available to the consumer Fair Trade.
How does Fair Trade create opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers?
Fair trade provides opportunities by giving people the chance to help themselves. In most instances, the things that we sell Fair Trade are things that are already being made, where the producers already have skills. Essentially, what Fair Trade organisations are doing is bringing those things into a new market and providing that access to a new market. In addition to that, Fair Trade also does things like helping artisans with design assistants - helping them to design things that will sell well in different markets, providing capital for them to work with up front. Because often the real issue is resources, they may be able to make great things that would sell but without the initial capital to work with. It is very difficult to be able to produce the kind of orders that might make it into that market. So, there are a number of pro-active ways that Fair Trade is going after, helping artisans in developing countries, but the basic answer would be that the way that we help disadvantaged producers is by giving them a way to help themselves. It is definitely not a charity, but rather a method of giving them a way to work out of poverty, by making a trade opportunity available.
What is a 'fair' price?
A fair price is something that has to be established through openness and conversation. The basic idea is that a fair price is a price that something can be sustainably produced at; it should never drop below that, as has sometimes happened in different markets like the coffee market. A fair price is one that something can be sustainably produced at, so the workers are being paid fairly, that sustainable methods are used in production. And that kind of thing is not something that you can just set for someone. It is really something that requires conversation and openness, and it is going to be different in different contexts.
Do Fair Trade goods cost more than comparable non-fair trade goods?
For the consumer, Fair Trade goods are in some instances the exact same price, and in some instances are even cheaper. What happens is, with a lot of the products that we buy, a very little amount of that money is going to the producer, because in the process all of the layers have been added on, and middle people who have some part in that process. So by the time it gets to you, it is very expensive. By making trade very direct, we can actually make sure that the producer is being paid a fair wage and still be getting a better price in many instances for the things that we buy. And so I think that that is what is exciting... you are not only getting a better product, but often you are getting it at an even better price.
Where can I find Fair Trade goods?
Often, Fair Trade Goods may be available in places where you already shop. For instance, at the grocery store you may be able to find Fair Trade Certified coffee or Fair Trade Certified fruit in the very stores where you already go. In addition to that, there may be fair trade organizations operating in your community that have stores, and a lot of that can be found online. Up until this point a lot of organizations have operated online. Ten Thousand Villages has a great website where anyone, if you're not in one of the hundred or so cities that has a Ten Thousand Villages store, can go on the website and buy fair trade gifts or a wide assortment of fair trade things from your computer at home. A lot of fair trade organizations make a website available and ecommerce has been a big way that people have been able to buy fair trade, regardless of where you are.