Not all trading is created equal. In fact, two seemingly identical products can come from entirely different sources. While one company respects and compensates its producers, another might exploit workers to make a cost-effective product.
This latter reason is precisely why fair trade has become so vital to those working in developing countries — and why it should be of utmost importance to you, the one with the buying power.
What is Fairtrade?
As the name implies, fair trade ensures that farmers and other laborers receive a living wage and that companies pay the right price for their products. On top of that, fair trade benefits the community — a big corporation shouldn’t come in and spike production in a way that damages the environment in a developing country.
These standards, in turn, empower farmers to continue to improve their businesses and get what they deserve from buyers. When they receive the right amount of money, they can then funnel that cash back into their businesses or their communities. Fairtrade has been shown to improve working conditions and boost educational and healthcare opportunities for workers, too.
As one example, Fair Hills Wine gathers grapes in three countries: South Africa, Chile, and Argentina. They have always provided workers with a living wage, which allows them to live comfortably. But the company’s funding has improved life for workers through their thoughtful community benefits program. They provide adult literacy training, as well as housing renovation and a bus that brings staff to and from work.
What Are The Benefits?
Obviously, fair trade empowers farmers in developing countries. Rather than struggling to get by, they earn a living wage, and they can use additional funds to improve their business and community.
But it’s not just about the farmers who supply companies with their materials. Fairtrade certification often requires that farmers follow stringent environmental guidelines, too. For instance, they have to use earth-friendly practices such as crop rotation so they don’t leech all of the ground’s nutrients. Farmers also must irrigate responsibly and cut water usage over time.
As it turns out, the tenets of fair trade end up helping businesses, too. Seth Goldman of Honest Tea has figured this out — if his company wants to keep harvesting tea, then they need to protect the areas from which their product comes. As such, they employ farmers who stick to sustainable, organic practices.
Goldman encouraged other businesses to do the same, saying, “Our perspective is to encourage companies to ask those questions on how they are being more inventive with their own footprints.”
How Can I Know What’s Fairtrade?
Look for the Fairtrade Mark on a product to ensure that it has been respectfully harvested and produced. Of course, a company can’t just slap the Fairtrade logo onto their products. They have to prove they meet a set of requirements, such as meeting the benchmark of minimum farmer pay.
One popular company to adopt the Fairtrade logo is Ben & Jerry’s. The company works to responsibly source five of its major ingredients: sugar, cocoa, vanilla, bananas, and coffee. In doing so, they funneled more than $3 million into farming communities around the world — and that was just in 2017.
The Fairtrade program makes it easy to figure out if something meets these standards. However, not every company will shell out the cash to have their products evaluated and branded by Fairtrade. Check labels to see if what you’re buying denotes that it’s fair trade — companies know that this is a selling point, so it will probably be emblazoned on their packaging. You can also call a business directly to find out from where they source their materials and if they do so with respect to the locals.
Should I Support Fairtrade?
All the above should answer that question for you. If you’re on the fence, though, consider the implications of a world without fair trade. Farmers in developing areas wouldn’t receive a fair price for their goods.
As such, they easily slip into poverty. They wouldn’t have grounds for negotiation, either — businesses would just take the lowest bidder. And the community would remain stagnant, whereas additional funding could help everyone get better.
It should be clear, then, that fair trade products are worth the effort to find. Better yet, your support sends a message to companies everywhere — adhere to sustainable, farmer-friendly practices and I’ll buy from you. When you put your money where your mouth is, businesses will listen, and everyone will be better for it.