Fair Trade – FAQs

1. What is fair trade and how does it differ from other types of trade?

Conventional trade seeks to gain profit with little to no consideration of worker’s rights, community development, or environmental stewardship. 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.  The nine principles of Fair Trade are listed here.

2. Why should I make the effort to buy fair trade products?

Under conventional trade (sometimes called “free” trade), workers’ wages are squeezed—and their safety sometimes compromised—in order to make bigger profits for the owners and stockholders. That’s why sweatshops and child labor exist.

Fair trade upholds people’s dignity. Many fair trade businesses are cooperatives: workers own equal shares in the company or farm. These worker/owners set the conditions and value of their work. Essentially, they tell us (we who distribute and sell their products) how much their goods are worth. Paying them a fair price does not necessarily mean higher prices for the consumer. For instance, a pound of shade grown, arabica bean, gourmet coffee that is fair trade is no more expensive than shade grown, arabica bean, gourmet coffee that is sold on through the conventional market.

3. How do I know that a product is a legitimate fair trade product?

An explanation of Fair Trade certifications can be found here.

Article: How Do You Know It’s Really Fair Trade?

4. Is Fair Trade a marketing gimmick?

It can be.

As fair trade becomes more popular, it stands to reason that more companies want to offer a fair trade line of coffee to meet consumer demand. It is for this very reason that consumers should support companies that are 100% Fair Trade (see our Shop Fair Trade tab for Fair Trade brands) rather than companies that offer a small line of fair trade coffee (e.g., Starbucks, which is only 5% fair trade). For the majority of their product line, the companies that offer just a small line of fair trade are still part of the conventional market that exploits small farmers and farm workers. Some of those companies are better than others. Green Mountain, for example, is about 40% fair trade and taking steps to increase the portion of fair trade in their product line.

There are better gimmicks than fair trade. In response to consumers’ demand for ethically-produced products, companies have initiated (or getting on board with) alternative certifications like Whole Trade, Direct Trade, Ethical Trade, Rainforest Alliance, Utz Certified, etc. All of these are watered-down versions of Fair Trade.  More on these non-Fair Trade certifications can be found here.

5. Do fair trade farmers sell both to the fair trade market and to the conventional market?

Yes. Because the demand for fair trade still isn’t high enough, farmers are forced to sell some of their product on the conventional market. As a matter of fact, some unscrupulous intermediaries (nicknamed “coyotes”) try to entice farmers by paying more than the fair trade price, in attempts to persuade them to drop their fair trade contracts altogether. In the short term, that might benefit the farmer. But in the long term, when the conventional market price drops again, the farmer will be at the mercy of the coyote.  Fair trade, on the other hand, gives the farmer price stability, therefore income stability.

6. How can I locate vendors of fair trade products?

A list of Fair Trade stores, Fair Trade brands, and retailers can be found on our Shop Fair Trade Tab.

7. What is the Ohio Fair Trade Network and what does it do?

The Ohio Fair Trade Network is a committed group of Fair Trade business owners, advocates, and educators who strive to promote Fair Trade in Ohio. The network plans the Ohio Fair Trade Teach-In & Expo in October, an day-long event that includes speakers, workshops, and a Fair Trade market.  More information about the history of Fair Trade and Fair Trade in Ohio can be found here.

8. What is the Ohio Fair Trade Teach-In & Expo and when will it occur?

The Ohio Fair Trade Teach-In & Expo takes place during one Saturday in October every year, usually from 9 AM to 4 PM. Recently, it’s been held at John Carroll University‘s Dolan Center for Science & Technology in University Heights, Ohio.

The day includes: International and national keynote speakers; workshops on a variety of issues including sessions for beginners to experts; a Fair Trade Marketplace with 25+ vendors from across Ohio and the region; a program for Girl Scouts that includes hands-on activities, opportunities to learn about fair trade and the countries where fair trade products are developed, and the chance to earn a “Fair Trade Patch”; and activities for children and families (including fair trade art contests, Ohio Fair Trade tattoos, and more!) For more info on this year’s Ohio Fair Trade Teach-In & Expo, please visit the Teach-In & Expo Tab located in the navigation bar above.

9. How can I organize a fair trade event in my community?

Check out our How to Host a Fair Trade Event page.