What is the Fair Trade Certification?

Fair Trade Certification

How Do You Define ‘Fair Trade’?

Fair Trade Certified™ is the global brand of the nonprofit organization, Fair Trade USA. The Fair Trade certification ​​works on the ground with suppliers to ensure that people making Fair Trade-Certified products work in safe conditions, protect the environment, and earn additional money to empower their communities. This certification has intersectional impacts, including an emphasis on safe working conditions, environmental protection, sustainable livelihoods, and Community Development Funds. You’ll find the Fair Trade seal of approval and logo on products that have met these standards. 

Is Fair Trade regulated?

Yes. While Fair Trade certifications are not regulated by the government, there are internal processes, including audits, to determine thresholds companies must meet. There are also additional, private third-party regulators that monitor Fair Trade certifications.  

How does Fair Trade certification work?

The Fair Trade theory of change includes a multi-pronged approach. They develop standards by which to evaluate corporate behavior, and then conduct supply chain audits to ensure ethical business practices. They also provide educational opportunities to give producers agency and ensure fair wages, while monitoring and evaluating outcomes to measure impact.

What kind of products have Fair Trade certification?

There are products, materials, and ingredients all over the globe that are Fair Trade certified. The most commonly known Fair Trade certified commodity may be coffee, but there are products in almost every sector that have this certification. You can find Fair Trade certified raw materials, including gold and cotton, from wedding ring bands to bathrobes! It even can be found on personal care products, like diaper rash cream and moisturizer, ensuring that ingredients, like argan oil or shea butter, are produced by folks that are being compensated appropriately for their labor. And, keep an eye out for food products with this certification, like rice mylk, working to ensure safe working conditions, financial support, and disaster relief efforts. 

So… is a company “good” if it has a Fair Trade certification?

Well… maybe. Like with all things sustainability, Fair Trade certification also isn’t so black and white. While you can rest assured that some, evidence-based threshold is being met Here are some of the biggest watch-outs when it comes to Fair Trade certification:

While poverty reduction is a key goal, some communities don’t experience poverty alleviation

  • Studies from Harvard University, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of California found that Fair Trade certified coffee had little positive economic impact on coffee growers, especially those making the least money. When it comes to commodities like coffee, a potential alternative is buying through Direct Trade models – which has a more significant economic impact on laborers. Booyah!

Not all communities are uplifted by Fair Trade practices

  • Because of the Fair Trade theory of change and its ability for impact, some of the most marginalized populations in the global south are unable to reap the benefits of the program. For example, migrant workers, unorganized smallholder farmers, home workers, and processors of agricultural products. Additionally, while Fair Trade is working to support refugees, a limited amount of its initiatives focus on undocumented workers that don’t have asylum status. 

Some of the environmental standards aren’t substantial enough

  • While Fair Trade practices have been shown to reduce agrichemical use, support biodiversity, water conservation, nutrient cycling, erosion control, pollination, and pest control – it doesn’t address monocrop farming, especially with large cash crops. Monocropping can have some serious negative impacts on people and the planet… enter: regenerative agriculture. 

Still want to learn more? Check out some of our favorite references: