What Does Fair Trade Certified Mean?


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I am sure you have come across the sign for Fair Trade goods, but do you know what it means? The logo shown below is for marking products that have been Fair Trade Certified. Many people think it is just fair wages for goods created, but it means a lot more than that. The Fair Trade movement promotes standards for fair labor standards, environmentalism, social policy, fair pricing, and community development. The “official” declaration of what Fair Trade is comes from FINE, an informal association of the four main fair trade networks (Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, International Fair Trade Association, Network of European Worldshops and European Fair Trade Association):

Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South. Fair Trade Organizations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.


So how does a product become Fair Trade Certified? The standards are set by FLO International (Fairtrade Labelling Organizations), and a certification body, FLO-CERT, and the system involves independent auditing of producers to ensure the agreed standards are met. Once products meet the standards, they can apply to use the Fair Trade logo.

In the United States, bananas, honey, coffee, oranges, cocoa, cotton, dried and fresh fruits and vegetables, juices, nuts and oil seeds, quinoa, rice, spices, sugar, tea, herbs, and wine can all be found Fair Trade Certified. Overseas, you can also get Fair Trade Certified flowers, cotton, honey, sports balls, and beer. One thing to keep in mind though is that Fair Trade certification does not guarantee that a product was organically grown. Although farmers that are certified are probably more likely to farm organically, there is no guarantee as such.

By buying Fair Trade Certified products, you are helping farmers lift themselves out of poverty by investing in their farms and communities, protecting the environment, and developing the business skills necessary to compete in the global marketplace. To be exact, you are helping to encourage the following principles:

Fair price: Democratically organized farmer groups receive a guaranteed minimum floor price and an additional premium for certified organic products. Farmer organizations are also eligible for pre-harvest credit.

Fair labor conditions: Workers on Fair Trade farms enjoy freedom of association, safe working conditions, and living wages. Forced child labor is strictly prohibited.

Direct trade: With Fair Trade, importers purchase from Fair Trade producer groups as directly as possible, eliminating unnecessary middlemen and empowering farmers to develop the business capacity necessary to compete in the global marketplace.

Democratic and transparent organizations: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers decide democratically how to invest Fair Trade revenues.

Community development: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers invest Fair Trade premiums in social and business development projects like scholarship programs, quality improvement trainings, and organic certification.

Environmental sustainability: Harmful agrochemicals and GMOs are strictly prohibited in favor of environmentally sustainable farming methods that protect farmers’ health and preserve valuable ecosystems for future generations.

When you are in the market for any of the products I listed above that can be certified Fair Trade, be sure to try to get them that way. A great place to learn way more about Fair Trade than I could ever possibly put here is the Transfair.org website. They also have a handy-dandy page for finding Fair Trade goods in your area, which I have used to find various products that maybe were not sold in my local store.

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  1. I’m so glad you covered Fair Trade. I was one of the 1st interns at TransFair USA at the beginning of the Fair Trade coffee campaign. 11 years later, it’s still very important to me. It’s amazing to see how far Fair Trade Certification has come in that time.

    If I can only have 1 certification, I prefer Fair Trade over organic because many Fair Trade items are “passive organic.” This is because the growers can’t afford pesticides. They grow products where nature intended…so they don’t need pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Organic Certification costs more than Fair Trade Certification does. Many farmers can’t afford organic certification, event when they band together in coops. But, they can afford Fair Trade Certification.

    In many 3rd world countries parents have to pay for school for their children. It’s not free. Buying Fair Trade means parents can afford to send their kids to school rather than keep them home working in the fields. It’s impact is so far reaching.

    The easiest Fair Trade product you can find in the US is coffee. The only thing we import more of than coffee is petroleum (at least that was so when I was with TranFair. I assume it’s the same now). This is an area where your purchasing decisions can have hugely positive impact.

    Every time you go to a coffee house, ask if they have Fair Trade Certified Coffee. If they don’t, tell them that Fair Trade is important to you and you’d hate to go to their competitor to get it.

    As a side note, Americans often think people in the 3rd world who haven’t had a formal education aren’t smart. I have to tell you that I had the honor of driving around one of the farmers that TransFair brought up from Nicaragua for a speaking tour. This man had never taken a warm shower in his life. He was from a small village. But he had a much better grasp of world affairs than most college educated Americans do.

    I could go on…but I won’t. Thanks David for covering this issue. It’s personal and very important to me.

    1. Hi Danika, thanks for your comments and a mini education on Fair Trade. I really enjoyed all that you had to say. Thanks, Karen

  2. Thanks for all the great info Danika, that’s very helpful. I do my best to buy Fair Trade over most other “certifications”, so hopefully others will too!

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