Fair trade is an incredible concept to help ensure countries and workers around the world are able to compete on a level economic playing field. Fair trade is a lot of things but, at its core, it’s a set of principles to fight against worker mistreatment and environmental damage. It’s not a government-enforced set of regulations but does have several third-party agencies to help spread awareness. Learning the core concepts of fair trade will help illustrate its potential to bring positive change to our world.
Principles of Fair Trade
The principles of fair trade are assessed and signed-off upon by several organizations such as Fair Trade USA. This group is responsible for the “Fair Trade Certified” insignia found on many consumer goods. Their guidelines extend into agricultural, manufacturing, wildlife, and even home goods markets. The guidelines set forth by Fair Trade USA are created with an expressed intent of avoiding predatory sourcing and manufacturing practices. These practices, often driving down prices at the expense of workers and local environments, including low wages, unsustainable harvesting practices, and exploitation of local resources. The Fair Trade USA website is pretty difficult to navigate and is laid out in very circuitous ways. Much of the information one might be interested in comes via downloadable PDFs. Below you’ll find an example of the guidelines that a Fair Trade Certification takes into account (taken from their Agricultural guidelines document.)
- Worker Empowerment
- Fundamental Rights of Workers
- Working Conditions & Wages
- Biodiversity & Sustainable Production
- Supply Chain Transparency & Traceability
- Internal Management System
Its important to keep in mind that these principles are just those expressed by a single agency and not specifically enforced, supported, or recommended by other agencies by default. Another well-known fairtrade agency is the World Fairtrade Organization (WFTO). Their definition of “fair trade” is as follows:
“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.”
As you can see, this is a much broader definition which assumes a lot of local context is added. It’s also expressive of the fundamental principles by which many other agencies develop, certify, and evolve fairtrade oversight to ensure better global equality and sustainability.
Fair Trade USA isn’t the only agency dedicated towards their mission goals. Several other agencies around the world are forging similar such guidelines in an effort to provide greater market demand for products and services delivered via fair trade networks. As described by the Fair World Project, these are some of the many agencies taking a stand to ensure Fair Trade conditions for workers an economies around the world:
In addition to these agencies, each of which is helping to establish fairtrade guidelines, there are several agencies which help certify compliance with fairtrade ideals. These are the agencies that help producers communicate their dedication to fairtrade practices to consumers.
There are also several membership organizations by which companies and manufacturers are able to exert their will into the global economy in such a way as to affect a shift towards fairtrade principles. These membership organizations help pool resources, conduct research, and report on market conditions to help create better guidelines and fairtrade operational principles.
Making a Difference
The principles of fairtrade and the agencies dedicated to enacting them have made sweeping changes to marketplace conditions. Workers around the world are now being compensated more fairly, are being treated more humanely, and local ecosystems are footing the bill for consumers half-way around the world. At least not as much as usual. There aren’t any legal frameworks to enforce fairtrade principles, though some basic ideas are covered in most local legal systems. Still, even issues such as child labor, slave labor, and inhumane working conditions are found in the workplace. To help spread the ideas and principles of fairtrade, consumers should look for products with certification insignia indicating their certification through one of the agencies listed above (or a similar such agency.) Together we can make a difference but only if we all work together!