What is behind FairTrade label?

Fair Trade is a social partnership that aims to help producers in developing countries to have access to better trading conditions and promote sustainability.

The currently accepted definition of Fair Trade is:

Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South. Fair Trade Organizations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.

Fair Trade helps producers to realise social benefits for their communities of traditional forms of production. This enables buyers to trade with producers who would otherwise be excluded from some vital markets. It also helps to shorten trade chains so that producers receive more from the final selling price of their goods than what is the norm in conventional trade via multiple intermediaries.

A product carrying the Fairtrade Mark means that producers and traders have met Fairtrade Standards. Fairtrade Standards exist for food products like tea, coffee, fresh fruits and nuts. There are also standards for non-food products such as flowers and plants, sports balls and seed cotton.

There are distinct sets of Fairtrade Standards, which acknowledge different types of producers. One set of standards applies to smallholders that are working together in cooperatives or other organizations with a democratic structure. The other set applies to workers, whose employers pay decent wages, guarantee the right to join trade unions, ensure health and safety standards and provide adequate housing where relevant. 

Fairtrade prohibits child labour as defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) minimum age and the worst forms of child labour conventions. No person or product certification system can, however, provide a 100% guarantee that a product is free of child labour. Specific criteria in the Fairtrade Standards that apply directly to child labour include as example: Children below the age of 15 are not to be employed by Fairtrade organizations; Children are only allowed to help on family farms under strict conditions; ecc

The Fairtrade Standards promote also sustainable development through best agricultural practices, which not only guide producers to adapt to climate change impacts, but also encourage them to mitigate its impact. The environmental standards include the following practices: integrated pest management, prevention of soil erosion, improvement of soil fertility, sustainable use of water sources, sustainable waste management, prohibition of GMOs, protection of biodiversity, use of renewable energy, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

There are some doubts about the trustworthiness of the Fairtrade label. One of them is linked to the fact that Fairtrade may interfere with free market systems by fixing prices above market values. Yet others argue that true free markets do not exist, as unequal access to information between trading parties allows some to exploit others. Some others argue the credibility on their standards.

There are for sure some pros and cons underlying the certification. In my opinion buying local products is the ‘best’ ethical choices we can make. We have to first choose to buy local where possible, and fair trade where goods cannot be produced locally, for example coffee and cocoa products. Buying local is thought to be a good choice in terms of environmental impact - reducing ‘food miles’, and in terms of supporting the local economy.

More details on Fairtrade standards


Have also a look to these articles about FairTrade debate: