We love sharing new information and helping people learn about Fair Trade. Whether you are new to the movement or have been involved all your life, there is a part we each can play! Here are our top 20 facts about Fair Trade, to explain some core values of the movement.
- Focus on developing countries.
In the United States and Europe, we generally rely on labor laws to be fair. Fair Trade applies specifically to parts of the world where people are in poverty and easily exploited for labor, there are not laws regarding fair and safe conditions, or the enforcement of the laws is weak or nonexistent.
- Marginalized or at-risk artisans.
Fair Trade also focuses on makers and farmers who have otherwise been enslaved or exploited, and who need additional opportunity because of their geographic location, gender, social status, caste, or other stereotypes.
- Fair wages are a group decision.
Who decides what is fair? In the best Fair Trade situations, companies are run by worker-owned cooperatives, and everyone has a vote in business decisions and product pricing. In factory and plantation settings, the owners are deciding price but allow workers to vote on how the community premium fund is used – for schools, hospitals, water supplies, etc.
- Gender equity.
Since Fair Trade is focused on providing opportunity to people who lack it, women are often given preference and new opportunities because of their involvement in a Fair Trade company. Brilliant makers and administrative staff members are employed in new places because Fair Trade companies give them a chance. In fact, Fair Trade companies globally outpace traditional businesses in a comparison of the percentage of women in leadership.
- Dignity and respect for every person.
Fair Trade reinforces the value that every person matters. No matter where someone is born or where they come from, they deserve opportunity and a fair wage to provide for their family. Work that is conducted in safe conditions and allows people to grow their skills is an incredible way to build personal value, strengthen families, and stabilize communities. Every person matters -- this may be the most powerful of the Top 20 Facts about Fair Trade.
- Producer buy-in.
As we mentioned above, Fair means that the people conducting the work have a say and some ownership in the company decisions that are made. In a worker-owned cooperative, farmers or handmade artisans discuss and vote on business decisions as a team. Larger farmers and factories try to provide other means of engagement, including a community premium fund directed by the workers.
- Advance payments.
Another way to make business Fair is to provide advance payments when an order is made. Buyers who are doing a completely Fair Trade business will place an order with an artisan group, and at the same time they will also provide a fifty percent downpayment. This allows makers to purchase materials in order to fulfill the order, plus provides a little more income stability.
- Long-term trade relationships.
Related to #7 above, the buyer/maker relationship is long-term in a good Fair Trade arrangement. Buyers continue to return to the same artisan groups and farmers, and they get to know the people with whom they conduct business. The artisans get to know the buyers in the same way. This is the best way of ensuring that Fair Trade principles are being followed – relationships keep people engaged and informed of all business practices.
- No child labor.
We believe that kids should be in school, not forced to work because of circumstances or community pressures. On the whole, Fair Trade businesses are not using child labor. In special circumstances, if a child works after school, the hours are very carefully monitored and children must have time for rest and play.
- Community building
Working in a cooperative requires that farmers and makers build relationships in their communities. It helps families rely on each other, and it strengthens community pride when big business victories occur.
- Capacity/skills building
In addition to purchasing products, Fair Trade buyers or organizations also may offer skills training or business classes for people to refine their talents. Fair Trade businesses are interested in the growth of the whole person, beyond today's production.
- Many Fair Trade items are handmade gifts.
This means that they also may be one-of-a-kind, unique pieces that are amazing gifts or conversations pieces for your own home. Handmade cultural traditions can also be preserved when workers are empowered with jobs and a global Fair Trade marketplace to sell their goods.
- Some Fair Trade items are made in factories.
There is debate about whether to allow factories and parts of items to be certified Fair Trade. Our preference is that every aspect of the item and the process is Fair – not just the fabric, not just the sewing, but all of it. If a factory can accomplish this AND create a true democratic system of getting feedback and votes from workers, this type of Fair Trade may work at this larger scale.
- Fair Trade items are useful, not just trinkets.
For many years, Fair Trade products were considered “handmade crafts.” This led to the perception that global handmade goods are trinkets and not really things you actually can use or need. Great changes have come about in this! Fair Trade products are available for a wide variety of practical household needs, in addition to beautiful gifts.
- Small producers are smart and bright business people.
You may think that because someone lives in poverty, he or she is not smart. This is far from true. Fair Trade farmers and artisans have incredible gifts in business and production, and some even attend University for a degree in the management of cooperatives in the Fair Trade industry!
- Fair Trade considers people/planet/profit.
Fair Trade businesses are social enterprises – a business that sets out to solve a social problem. To do this, they consider equally the impacts of their decisions on people, the planet, and business profits. This triple bottom line is the key to the success of ethical businesses around the world.
Because Fair Trade happens all over the world, resources can vary and so do solutions. Fair Trade makers create innovative solutions to production challenges, use renewable resources found in their community (for example, palm leaves in Bangladesh to weave into baskets), and respect the planet in the process.
Fair Trade groups remind us in the developed world that the pain and poverty of those who are underprivileged is still quite real. Fair Trade organizations advocate with governments for safer and more fair labor laws, inform us of companies who cause ethical violations, and provide action steps when we want to pursue these issues ourselves.
- Respect for the environment.
We have mentioned this above, but it is worth repeating – Fair Trade respects people AND the planet. Good business people consider all the long-term impacts of their choices and their company policies, not just for the sake of public relations. Good business people care about changing the world of unfair labor and transforming lives together with workers in all sorts of remote parts of the world.
We talk often of empowering the artisans, so this may have become a buzzword. But at its core, empowering means to give up power. We (those of us with money to spend on shopping) have the power. This is a great responsibility. When we shop Fair Trade, we redistribute some power, giving up a little bit of ours so that workers can live much better lives.
Hopefully some of these Top 20 facts about Fair Trade are new for you, a good review, or a great list to share with your friends.
Thanks for joining us on this journey to learn and shop Fair Trade! Our online Fair Trade store is a great place to get started with some fair choices.