fair trade

What Is Fair Trade?

When grocery shopping, it has always been a good practice to check product labels. If you are one who practices this, I’m pretty sure that you may have encountered a fair trade label.

If you’re familiar with the fair trade definition, it may conjure up mental images of happy farmers with their produce. Why is it advertised this way?

What Means Fair Trade?

Well to put it simply, fair trade is responsible for ensuring that farmers and local artisans get a fair end of the stick. They are very vulnerable to exploitation and are usually taken advantage of in this setup. Companies that are fair trade-certified are considered to observe ethical practices in the manufacture and sale of their products.

Some people appreciate the effort of ensuring fair trade, while other people see it as merely a marketing ploy. Seeing how people have a generally lukewarm response to matters on fair trade, we have decided to discuss it today.

Back to When Trade Was Unfair

To gain a little context, let’s go back to the time when trade was quite lacking in this area. Different sources claim different timelines as to when fair trade started. Due to the lack of consensus, its early days were traced back to a time of significant development in the field. 

In 1946, Edna Ruth Byler, an American businesswoman happened to visit a women’s sewing group in Puerto Rico. She observed how they were having trouble with their sales. This led to difficulty covering operational costs to keep the business afloat. Byler assisted the group by importing their products and selling them in the United States. This gave way to what is now considered the first fair trade organization.

In 1949, the Sales Exchange for Refugee Rehabilitation and Vocations (SERRV) followed suit. The impact in the United States paved the way for Europe to join the movement in the 1950s. It was in Europe that the movement gained popularity.

The movement further promoted the equal and fair access of all producers to the market. The impact of the movement was popularly expressed in the slogan “trade not aid.”

trade not aid

What Is the Trade-not-aid Strategy?

The idea is, it would be more helpful for producers if they were given fair opportunities rather than donations. If countries with poorer economies had the chance to trade freely with affluent countries, they could earn reliable incomes instead of relying on aid.

This trade, not aid idea is supposed to help avoid creating a culture of dependency and safeguarding against exploitation. Yes, behind every foreign donation is a possibility of an ulterior motive for private gain. Donations come in hefty amounts. So, some believe they come with an exchange of other benefits like deciding power or authority.

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How Does Fair Trade Relate to Sustainability?

A lot of people link sustainable living with the purchase of fair trade goods. The linkage, however, may not be as direct as believed. As we work towards being ethical consumers, it is important to understand where sustainability is in fair trade. For this, let us first revisit the definition of sustainability. According to the University of Alberta’s Office of Sustainability, Sustainability is about the responsible use of today’s resources. “Responsible usage” is defined by using today’s resources without compromising future generations’ opportunities to do the same. This is especially because not all resources are renewable, and if they are, they take so much time for replenishment.

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Furthermore, three pillars of sustainability were identified—environment, economy, and society. These pillars of sustainability provide clearer links to fair trade.

1. Environmental Sustainability

Is Fair Trade Environmentally Friendly?

This aspect focuses on promoting practices that protect the environment and its resources. Fair trade products promote more environmentally friendly ways of manufacturing. Fair trade-certified products usually come with organic certifications as well. Organic farming has seen a decrease of 7,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per acre. Fair trade certifying bodies also include environmental standards on greenhouse gas emissions, pest and waste management, and the like.

2. Economic Sustainability

How Does Fair Trade Help the Economy?

This promotes long-term economic growth. One that does not negatively affect the community and other pillars of sustainability. Fair trade is big on economic sustainability specifically expressed in its “trade, not aid” idea.

3. Social Sustainability

What Are the Social Benefits of Fair Trade?

This focuses on prioritizing human rights and maintaining healthy communities. Fair trade contributes to such priority by protecting vulnerable communities from the exploitation of dominant industry presence. From the very start, it was the goal of fair trade to give all producers equal access to the market.

While fair trade does not equate to sustainability, it is a concrete effort towards practicing sustainability. It is important to frame fair trade this way to better encourage responsible buying on others and ourselves.

modern fair trade

Fair Trade Today

Products have expanded beyond fair trade coffee, fair trade chocolate, and needlecraft. With increased variety, fruits, houseware, clothing, and accessories, are now part of the selection. We even see these products in large retails stores today! More importantly, a lot more companies are in the process of getting similar eco-certifications.

Why is Fair Trade Important?

An economy that embraces fair trade is one that is rooted in integrity and respect. While some remain skeptical about the intentions behind bigger organizations supporting the movement, this is still considered a good start. At the consumer level, supporting such products does not only make us better buyers but brings us closer to achieving our sustainable goals as well.

The next time you go grocery shopping, why not take a little of your time studying your purchases? It will surely not cost you more than a 30-second glance. Imagine how much of a positive impact that 30-second glance has!

Truly, the road towards a sustainable life is one that requires making mindful decisions every day. This is the power of your decision.

Hopefully, you choose the green lifestyle.

Dare to greenify!


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