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What Is International Fair Trade?

Mark Wollacott
Mark Wollacott

International fair trade is a campaign to promote change in international trade. Backed by institutions such as the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), the campaign looks for ways to better protect and develop producers from poorer backgrounds. It is best known by Western consumers for its WFTO logo and the FAIRTRADE Mark of distinction on products such as coffee.

The fair trade movement began in the 1980s. The first fair trade label was started in 1988 in the Netherlands. It began with a brand of coffee, leading to the beverage being the closest linked product to the international fair trade movement. Since then, it has spread across Europe and North America. It includes the American TransFair label.

Fair trade sugar.
Fair trade sugar.

Power imbalances between rich Western companies and third-world producers form the most important issues for fair trade activists. The first aim is to provide producers and farmers with a reasonable income that is not dependent on the market. This means that they still receive a good income when the price of their product falls.

Fair trade logos and marks are displayed on products that meet a minimum set of standards. These standards are divided into two main categories: those for smallholders or co-operatives and those for workers. International fair trade standards can be further broken down into 10 basic principles that cover both workers and producers.

Fair trade coffee and coffee beans.
Fair trade coffee and coffee beans.

The first principle is to provide opportunities for financially poor producers in the third world, primarily Asia, Africa and Latin America. Fair trade also seeks to provide the world with transparency and accountability by letting consumers know how much of the money they pay goes to the producers themselves. As part of this, the fair trade movement seeks to promote good trading practices and fair payments to producers.

Certain working practices are expected of both large corporations and local producers. Children and forced laborers are excluded from fair trade certification. Companies must also prove that they do not discriminate against employees on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, disability or religion. Furthermore, they must prove that they are providing good working conditions for their employees.

Other principles of the international fair trade movement seek to build capacity among producers. This includes the development of both their businesses and the local community. To this end, fair trade includes a fair trade premium. This premium is an additional payment on top of the money received for the produce. Producers use the money to help develop projects in their local communities.

International fair trade also looks to promote the idea of fair trade across the world, from developing producers to Western consumers and corporations. They also look toward means of protecting the environment in developing communities. This includes responsible land usage and environmentally friendly technology.

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    • Fair trade sugar.
      By: picsfive
      Fair trade sugar.
    • Fair trade coffee and coffee beans.
      By: magkrepa
      Fair trade coffee and coffee beans.