Rebecca Watts Hull
What exactly is Fair Trade and what difference does it make when we look for this kind of certification to guide our purchasing? For a concise history of Fair Trade, I recommend checking out the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) website. The first storefront in the U.S. selling fairly traded crafts opened in 1958. Around the same time, shops in several European countries were beginning to market fairly traded crafts as well as promoting items made by refugees, with support from Oxfam, and cane sugar from smallholders in the Global South. Coffee entered the Fair Trade arena in 1973 with a shipment from Guatemala to a group in the Netherlands. Socially conscious consumers responded with enthusiasm, and over time Fair Trade food items expanded to tea, cocoa, sugar, wine, fruit juices, nuts, rice and spices.
There are several different forms of forms of Fair Trade certification, in the U.S. and globally, and their criteria different somewhat. In general, the term “Fair Trade” means that workers are ensured of a living wage (a minimum price per pound, in the case of coffee, providing a crucial cushion against volatile global markets); that working conditions are safe and healthy; that there is oversight and transparency in working conditions; and that there is attention to sustainability—social, environmental, and economic—throughout production and distribution. Some Fair Trade certified vendors, including Deans Beans, the coffee provider chosen by NDPC’s coffee buying group, goes well beyond minimum Fair Trade standards and works in close partnership with growers on community economic development.
For producers, Fair Trade provides an opportunity for farmers and artisans to earn a living wage from what they do, and a space for local communities to develop and thrive on their own terms. Many Fair Trade products include tags with the name of the person behind the product, reflecting a human-scaled exchange in a global market, and one with direct impact. A visit to the Women’s Bean Project or Dean’s Beans websites illustrates the very important place Alternative Gift Giving can have on the lives of those involved. In some cases, the impact is even more dramatic—the growth of Fair Trade certification for chocolate was a response to growing awareness of exploitative child labor in cocoa producing countries. Fair Trade chocolate is now available as a choice in most supermarkets—look for specific reference to Fair trade certification on the label (note: organic does not guarantee Fair Trade). Divine chocolate takes the Fair Trade relationship even further by including the Kuapa Kokoo Farmers’ Union, a co-operative of 100,000 cocoa farmers in Ghana, as shareholders.
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