What is fairtrade?
I don’t like long posts but I am breaking my own rule here to bring you the most comprehensive/condensed/all-in-one summary of Fair Trade.
Let’s hope it helps…
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WHAT IS FAIR TRADE ANYWAY?
We feel that it is our responsibility to sell items that are good for you and good for the makers of those products. We want to retail as many fair trade certified items as possible.
In a nutshell, fair trade is an organized social movement started by independent bodies that aim at helping small producers in developing countries getting better trading deals. Fair trade is a more equitable economic approach for developing countries as well as an organized social movement throughout the world. It is aimed at helping producers in those countries to negotiate better trading conditions and higher social and environmental standards that would promote sustainability and a future for their country. They do so by encouraging the creation of co-ops, cutting out the middelmen, ensuring high quality control through a rigorous certification system and regular audits as well as promoting sustainability and community development where the products are made or harvested. Fair trade certifying organizations are backed by consumers allowing the organizations to raise awareness and campaign for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.
SO, THAT’S ALL NICE BUT WHAT MAKES A PRODUCT FAIR TRADE?
So glad you asked…
Fair Trade and any affiliated producer or supplier of fair trade products usually abides by the following rules:
- creation of a co-op where the workers own their work (from the output to the more strategic decisions).
- Equal opportunity for producers and artisans marginalized and disadvantaged by traditional trading systems
- Commitment to long-term trading relationships providing stability and independence for the workers
- Empowerment of women through equal pay for equal work
- Healthy and safe working conditions for producers. That means no more than 8 hour work days without paying overtime and no more than 40 hour work week.
- Absolutely no child labor – according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as local laws and traditions. That means no workers under the age of 18.
- Advanced payments to help with pre-production financing, purchase of materials and tools.
- Provide fair wages to the members of the co-op
- Buyers to provide prompt payments to producers.
- Respect for cultural identity and traditions.
- Increase awareness of Fair Trade by providing information about producers lives and culture, encourage cross-cultural understanding and respect between consumers and producers.
Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?
WHO CERTIFIES THOSE PRODUCTS AS FAIR TRADE?
First, you have to understand that the Fair Trade movement started in 1946! And no, it’s not a typo.
These organizations started as humanitarian projects to alleviate political or economic duress in poor or developing countries. The movement started to take the shape it had today in Europe in the 1960s, in Holland through Oxfam. Eventually, the world famous Fair Trade organization Max Havelaar was the first to create the certification process we know today.
This means that Fair Trade is a movement born out of the non-profit world. That means that no government is in charge of certifying Fair Trade products. There are no international laws governing Fair Trade. It has many advantages and many disadvantages as well. Max Havelaar laid a very solid ground work that has been followed almost to the T by its adopters and followers but that also means that small differences exist between the certifiers and that the rules can be changed at will.
Here is a list of several (not all) international organizations that certify producers and manufacturers as Fair Trade:
- Fair Trade International (FLO)
- IMO (Fair For Life)
- Max Havelaar
- And within the US, the largest organization is Fair Trade USA.
Here’s a more complete list of fair trade certifiers.
IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FAIR TRADE CERTIFIED AND FAIR TRADE APPROVED?
Look at you, doing your homework and stuff…
The shorthand is YES. There is a difference. Let me explain.
Among the fair trade items we offer, not all of our products are certified fair trade. In fact, there is quite an important distinction to make between fair trade approved products and those that are certified.
Organizations like FairTradeUSA and IMO Fair for Life certify products, but organizations like:
- the Fair Trade Federation and
- the World Fair Trade Organization
evaluate the practices of a co-op or company and provide approval for the company’s implementation of Fair Trade practices, but they do not provide certification. Very often, it’s not because they don’t want to, it’s because of the strict policies that apply for the certification process.
Here’s a concrete example:
Coffee is the largest Fair Trade certified product because it is relatively easier to certify than say jewelry.
Why? Well, that’s because in order for a product to obtain its certification, ALL of the processes that culminate into the final product have to abide by the Fair Trade certification process. Farmers grow the coffee, harvest the coffee and (maybe) grind the coffee. and TADA! If they have followed the rules by which coffee is certified, you get Fair Trade coffee.
When it comes to making jewelry, all the parts of that beautiful ring you wear would have to be certified Fair Trade and that complicates tremendously the probability of your wearing a Fair Trade certified ring.
But does that mean, it does not follow the essence of the Fair Trade movement? We don’t believe so. The people at the Fair Trade Federation, for example, do great work to make sure their products follow 99% of the guidelines established by the FLO and the other major players.