What is Fair Trade?

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Fair Trade is a system of exchange that honors producers, communities, consumers, and the environment. It is a model for the global economy rooted in people-to-people connections, justice, and sustainability.  Fair Trade purchases support the following nine principles.  

  • Create Opportunities for Economically and Socially Marginalized Producers
    Fair Trade is a strategy for poverty alleviation and sustainable development. Members create social and economic opportunities through trading partnerships and marginalized producers. Members place the interests of producers and their communities as the primary concern of their enterprise.
  • Develop Transparent and Accountable Relationships
    Fair Trade involves relationships that are open, fair, consistent, and respectful. Members show consideration for both customers and producers by sharing information about the entire trading chain through honest and proactive communication. They create mechanisms to help customers and producers feel actively involved in the trading chain. If problems arise, members work cooperatively with Fair Trade partners and other organizations to implement solutions.
  • Build Capacity
    Fair Trade is a means to develop producers’ independence.  Members maintain long-term relationships based on solidarity, trust, and mutual respect, so that producers can improve their skills and their access to markets. Members help producers build capacity through proactive communication, financial and technical assistance, market information, and dialogue. They seek to share lessons learned, to spread best practices, and to strengthen the connection between communities, including among producer groups.
  • Promote Fair Trade
    Fair Trade encourages and understanding by all participants of their role in world trade.  Members actively raise awareness about Fair Trade and the possibility of greater justice in the global economic system. They encourage customers and producers to ask questions about conventional and alternative supply chains and to make informed choices. Members demonstrate that trade can be a positive force for improving living standards, health, education, the distribution of power, and the environment in the communities with which they work.                                                                                                                                        
  • Pay Promptly and Fairly
    Fair Trade empowers producers to set prices within a framework of the true costs of labor, time, materials, sustainable growth, and related factors. Members take steps to ensure that producers have the capacity to manage this process.  Members comply with or exceed international, national, local, and where applicable, Fair Trade Minimum standards for their employees and producers.  Members seek to ensure that income is distributed equitably at all times, particularly equal pay for equal work by women and men. Members ensure prompt payment to all their partners.  Producers are offered access to interest-free advance payment for handmade goods, or pre-finance of agricultural harvest with favorable terms.
  • Support Safe and Empowering Working Conditions
    Fair Trade mans a safe and healthy working environment free of forced labor. Throughout the trading chain, members cultivate workplaces that empower people to participate in the decisions that affect them.  Members seek to eliminate discrimination based on race, caste, national origin, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, union membership, political affiliation, age,marital, or health status.  Members support workplaces free from physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal harassment or abuse.
  • Ensure the Rights of Children
    Fair Trade means that all children have the right to security, education, and play. Throughout the trading chain, Members respect and support the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as local laws and social norms. Members disclose the involvement of children in production.  Members do not support child trafficking and exploitative child labor.
  • Cultivate Environmental Stewardship
    Fair Trade seeks to offer current generations the ability to meet their needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  Members actively consider the implications of their decisions on the environment and promote the responsible stewardship of resources. Members reduce, resuse, reclaim, and recycle materials wherever possible.  They encourage environmentally sustainable practices throughout the entire trading chain.
  • Respect Cultural Identity
    Fair Trade celebrates the cultural diversity of communities, while seeking to create positive and equitable change. Members respect the development of products, practices, and organizational models based on indigenous traditions and techniques to sustain cultures and revitalize traditions. Members balance market needs with producers’ cultural heritage.

Source: Fair Trade Federation

How Do You Know It’s Really Fair Trade?


  • Fair Trade FederationFAIR TRADE FEDERATION – Another organization involved in certification is The Fair Trade Federation (FTF) which approves companies (not specific products). Each member company goes through a rigorous screening process which includes a detailed examination of the company including references. Transparency is the key, and sample cost work-ups from suppliers are important. It is critical to know that each supplier is both charging and receiving a fair price for their product. Additional guidelines include prompt payment, ensuring rights of children, safe working conditions and environmental stewardship. A member company may use the FTF logo (two hands crossing in an oval) in all their materials except on the product itself. The most common products offered by FTF members are non-consumables which include items such as clothing, gifts, accessories and jewelry.


  • Fair For LifeFAIR FOR LIFE – “Fair for Life” is a brand neutral third party certification program for social accountability and fair trade in agricultural, manufacturing and trading operations. The program complements existing fair trade certification systems such as TransFair/Fair Labor Organization certifications.  It is more prominent in Europe but is beginning to be utilized by U.S. companies including Equal Exchange and Dr. Bronner’sFair for Life Social & Fair Trade Certification guarantees that human rights are guaranteed at any stage of production, that workers enjoy good and fair working conditions and that smallholder farmers receive a fair share. Fair trade improves the livelihood of thousands of smallholder farmers and workers by providing the means for social community projects and empowerment of people.


  • FAIR TRADE INTERNATIONAL – Fair Trade International is the organization that coordinates Fair trade labeling at an international level. From our offices, in Bonn, Germany, we set international Fair trade standards, organize support for producers around the world, develop global Fair trade strategy, and promote trade justice internationally
    Fair Trade America
  • FAIR TRADE AMERICA – Fair Trade America is the US specific branch of Fair Trade International.  Fair Trade America uses the same mark as Fair Trade International


  • Fair Trade USAFAIR TRADE USA – Fair Trade USA  (formerly Transfair USA) certifies food products and ingredients.  Some examples are: coffee, tea, sugar, rice, bananas, pineapples, vanilla extract, and cocoa. They also provide their certification label for products  that contain fair trade ingredients  (e.g. a candy bar that was produced using fair trade cocoa or an ice cream produced using fair trade vanilla extract).  A company which offers fair trade products certified through Fair Trade USA may not necessarily be considered a fair trade company. Only the product or products with the certification label are fair trade. Product certification involves actual inspections at the product source.