What You Should Know About Fair Trade

Fruit display on small streetside stall in Bali

When we first started From Around the Globe, I knew a little about the concept of fair trade, but hadn’t really done any real research into the term or organizations utilizing that name. It seemed a bit confusing… What exactly is fair trade? Is there a parent organization governing certification? Can any business call itself fair trade when it follows the standards? Is there such a thing as fair trade tourism? What can I do, personally, that will forward the mission of the fair trade movement?


In essence, fair trade is “trade between companies in developed countries and producers in developing countries in which fair prices are paid to the producers.” As Fairtrade International puts it, this is an alternative approach to conventional trade and is based on a partnership between producers and consumers.


Originally focused on agricultural products and farmers in developing nations, fair trade has its origins in 1988 when we saw the launch of the first Fairtrade label on coffee from Mexico sold to Dutch supermarkets. The label was called “Max Havelaar,” after a fictional Dutch character who was against the exploitation of coffee pickers in the Dutch colonies.

Traditional coffee beans roasting in metal basin with spoon, shallow depth of field

Traditional coffee beans roasting in metal basin with spoon, shallow depth of field

Since then, Fairtrade has expanded, and the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International was established in Bonn, Germany in 1997 in order to unite Fairtrade organizations under one roof. In 2004, two organizations branched off, one to provide Fairtrade Standards, and the other to certify organizations under the Fairtrade label (FLO-CERT). In addition, hand-stitched sports balls and some apparel have been added to the list of possible Fairtrade certifications.


Generally speaking, Fairtrade seeks to address issues of child labor, crop/food product standards (including sustainability and GMOs), traceability (tracing the history, location, use and processing of products), and of course, fair pricing and working conditions for producers. Fairtrade International sets and reviews the Standards, including lists of prohibited materials, while FLO-CERT audits producers, traders and companies to ensure compliance with the internationally-agreed-upon Standards.


One of the best aims of the movement is that Fairtrade also seeks to pay producers a premium in order for that producer to reinvest in development and his/her community. In addition, Fairtrade producers should be environmentally responsible, protecting water resources, restricting the use of pesticides, banning GMOs, and making sure waste in managed. Producers also have much greater control over the trading process in general.


There are criticisms of the Fairtrade movement. Some feel that the majority of funds go to the “middle men,” and that overproduction by Fairtrade farmers leads to lower prices for the non-Fairtrade farmers’ products. Those in favor of labelling, however, believe that the Fairtrade label essentially embarrasses some of the bigger suppliers, encouraging them to change their practices and to “go Fairtrade.” Indeed, even Wal-Mart carries some fair trade items. Fair trade coffee sales grew tenfold from 2001 to 2006, to $730 million. Clearly, its growth has continued, and while there are issues faced as plantations and larger suppliers enter the mix (see this article from 2008), it shows no signs of stopping.

NYC, Dad and David, wondering

Aligned with the Fairtrade movement are Alternative Trading Organizations, or ATOs, essentially NGOs allowing marginalized producers of other products in developing countries access to developed markets. Fairtrade is at the core of the mission to “humanize” the trade process. ATOs include such giants as SERRV, Ten Thousand Villages, and Global Crafts. These organizations follow Fairtrade principles such as creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers, ensuring transparency and accountability, driving capacity-building (developing the producers’ independence), gender equity, fair price, environmental responsibility, and acceptable working conditions.

straw bags Bahamas

Ms. Paulette and a few of her creations

Ben and Jerry’s has been using Fairtrade products for a while now, and likes to show it’s progress on the website so consumers can see that it’s important. According to a 2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study, “83% of Americans wished more of the products, services, and retailers they use would support good causes.” In addition, “80% of consumers would switch to a brand that supports a cause when price and quality are equal.” And surprise, surprise, moms and millennials are the most cause-conscious consumers these days.


So, what about Fair Trade Tourism? Is that a thing? Responsible Travel Report tells us that tourists can promote and support global sustainable development through their travels, helping to create jobs at the community level, enhancing environmental and cultural heritage protection, and improving infrastructure, to name a few. Jim O’Donnell of Around the World in Eighty Years defines this as Geotourism, or “‘best practice’ tourism that sustains, or even enhances, the geographical character of a place, such as its culture, environment, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.” Travelers can increasingly interact directly with community members through tours or independent trips, developing better understanding of other people and eventually purchasing fair trade items from the source. Hopefully, these same travelers take their experiences home with them, discussing the importance of supporting artisans from other countries to ensure the keeping of traditions and customs in those areas.


In addition, anyone can ask the “right” questions when making purchases at home, whether they be food-related, gifts for others, or items for your own home or enjoyment. When you buy online or in stores, do you know where your things come from? A popular hashtag these days is #whomademyclothes- an essential question for us to ask in today’s day and age. Do we know if something was produced in a way that was not harmful to the producer, the community, or the environment? Does the product maintain the creator’s cultural traditions? Can I make a decision not to choose a mass-produced version of this? These are exactly the questions we hope our customers ask when purchasing an item from From Around the Globe.

straw bag bahamas

We’re by no means experts in Fair Trade, but we continue to learn as we travel and meet new people. If you’re interested in the subject of Fair Trade, or sustainable/responsible travel, or volunteer travel, we encourage you to check out the sites below- they’ve got some great information, and links to more great information:

selling fair trade goods products

Saleswoman at the market

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4 thoughts on “What You Should Know About Fair Trade”

  1. Charlie says:

    Great article, very thoughtful and well researched. Thanks for the shout out too, very much appreciated and I hope that sustainable tourism practices will be increasingly embraced by travellers!

    1. admin says:

      Thanks, Charlie, and we agree- the more of us who can put it out there, the better!

  2. Tina says:

    Really great post and an important topic to understand, especially for travelers who want to support the people in the countries we visit.

    1. admin says:

      Thanks, Tina! You’re right- we can be more aware wherever we travel.

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