“It’s a small miracle that we can participate in a process that is keeping skills and communities alive and helping them to prosper.”
~ Emma Watson, Actor
You hear a lot about the importance of voting with your dollar, but how much does each purchase actually matter? A lot! Every cup of coffee or bite of chocolate can help create a more socially, economically, and environmentally just planet. That’s why certifications like Fair Trade are so important, they give consumers an easier way to create an equitable society. But what does Fair Trade actually mean? It’s more than just fair wages for farmers. As David Bronner, Cosmic Engagement Officer at Dr. Bronner’s states, “fair trade isn’t just about coffee and cacao, it’s about everything.”
When you go to the store, products are presented simply. There is little hint of their origin or the number of hands or resources used to create what’s on the shelf before you. Have you ever stopped to think about how that product was made, who made it, or under what conditions? If all of those stories were presented alongside the product, you may find out about the farmer whose labor cultivated the land, or the workers who made the goods in their communities, or the natural resources needed to produce the product. If all of this was visible, you would likely understand the larger impact a single product has on people, communities, and the planet.
Although workers and their labor conditions are often hidden behind persuasive packaging, when you purchase a product you are investing in whatever labor practices were used. Check out this brief video about the production of tomatoes made by the LA Times to get a sense of what unfair labor practices can look like. And with 2.6 billion people living on less than $2 a day, a serious shift in demand for ethical products is a must for a just and viable future. This is why practices such as Fair Trade certification are so important. As Fair Trade Campaigns explains, “When you choose to purchase Fair Trade products, you are endorsing an economic system that provides opportunities for international farmers, artisans and workers to lift themselves out of poverty.”
Small-scale farmers produce 70% of the world’s food. Yet the global food system poses many obstacles to those who seek to earn a fair livelihood. Ever-increasing corporate consolidation means struggles at every step, from access to seeds and land to unfair competition when they bring those crops to market.
Research continues to show that small-scale farmers are our best chance at feeding the world and combating climate change. Unlike large-scale industrial farms, small-scale, organic farmers tending to their plots can actually reduce carbon emissions through healthy soil that sequesters carbon and many other benefits. Through fair trade policies, we can support these producers to stay on their land and thrive.
At its core, Fair Trade advocates for workers like these small-scale farmers. Fair Trade supports worker’s rights, economic and community development, and environmentally friendly production methods. Rather than looking at production as a piecemeal operation, Fair Trade looks at trade holistically and asks how a product can be made and sold to benefit everyone and everything.
Since you can’t meet the people who made your product in the store, third-party certification and Fair Trade membership labels let you match your values with your purchases. Labels such as Fair for Life, Fairtrade America, Fair Trade USA, World Fair Trade Organization, and Fair Trade Federation, verify that a product was made following certain standards. Standards vary from label to label, but include fair and transparent prices for farmers, wages for workers, and premiums to support organic production and community development.
Some companies follow these standards for just a few products, while others follow these principles for all their products and reflect them in all aspects of their business dealings as well. These companies may be part of membership organizations like the Fair Trade Federation or the World Fair Trade Organization. Companies like Dr. Bronner’s have made these commitments, supporting the organizing efforts of small-scale farmers around the world and working to build fair supply chains.
Harsh working conditions on farms and in factories, unfair labor practices, environmental degradation, and worker oppression are still commonplace as fair trade goods only make up roughly 1% of the market. But if more consumers become informed, that 1% of market share will grow. And soon poor production standards will be transformed into sustainable practices that support people and planet.
The products you use, the food you eat, and the clothing you wear are often grown, produced, packaged, and transported by people you’ve never met in places you’ve never been. You may have a great relationship with the barista at your favorite coffee shop, but what about the farmers who grew and harvested your coffee beans? We rarely stop to consider who these purchases are actually supporting – producers like small-scale farmers or craftspeople or multinational corporations?
- Browse through Fair Trade Campaigns’ Myths and FAQs to get a better sense of what Fair Trade means.
- In your own words, define what Fair Trade means for both producers and consumers
- List three criteria that are required to certify goods as Fair Trade.
- Were you aware of what it meant to be Fair Trade before this? If not, what surprised you?
- List a few Fair Trade Certified things you either currently obtain or may be interested in using/having.
Behind every product is the story of a real person – perhaps even a child. According to UNICEF, 150 million children are engaged in child labor around the world, with 60% working in agriculture and more often than not, under slave conditions. The Fair Trade movement seeks to reveal the impact of our purchases and choices on one another. Here’s a chance for you to get connected with the people who grow and produce your products.
- Now that you have a better awareness of what Fair Trade means, educate others! Talk to a few people today and ask them if they know what Fair Trade means; if they don’t, explain it to them- maybe even suggest a few fair trade products to check out. How many people knew what Fair Trade meant? Give a short reflection of your conversation with these people.
Each meal we eat casts a vote for the kind of food system we want to support.
Small-scale farmers are the backbone of our food system, growing 70% of the world’s food. Yet the system is stacked against them, too often favoring mega corporations and industrial agriculture.
When you are buying products on your campus, have you ever thought about if they are fair trade certified? Fair Trade Campaigns has an entire program dedicated to making your campus a Fair Trade campus.
- Watch “The Fair Trade Story” to learn about small-scale farmers and their role in our food system.
- Take it a step further! Read about the requirements to become a Fair Trade College or University here, and what it takes to become a Fair Trade School here.
- Is there a campaign going on at your school?
- If there is a campaign at your school, what progress has it made? What are some next steps the project could take, and how might you contribute to growing the campaign.
- If there is NOT a campaign at your school, would you consider starting one? What steps would you need to take?