Thursday, May 31, 2012

Shop: Fair Trade Low Down

Ever wonder what a Fair Trade label means and why some coffee has a logo and some advertise fair wages but no logo? Me too. A few years ago I somehow got wrangled into presenting on Fair Trade coffee for a group, even though I knew next to nothing about it. When I was living in London, I just remember being stunned at seeing how many more items were labeled Fair Trade and so I wanted to know more. What I found was pretty interesting and there was quite a bit of information I had no idea about. Below are some of the things that came out of that research that I thought might be of interest to the MSL readers (the original presentation was to Orange County volunteers, so some info is very local). Enjoy!

What Does a Fair Trade Label Mean?

If a product has one of the logos below on it, that means it has been officially certified as Fair Trade, meeting the standards set by an independent body. These standards include fair wages to growers/producers, organizational democracy and transparency, direct trade, community development, certain sustainability requirements, fair working conditions (along with no child labor) including foregoing the use of certain pesticides known to be unhealthful to farmer workers. So, Fair Trade is about more than just fair wages (meaning some coffee makers may claim fair wages, but are not able to be certified as Fair Trade because they do not meet the other standards).

US label 
Started in Europe, but is now labeling US-sold products

Products in THE US are only eligible for Fair Trade certification if they are:
1. Coffee, tea and herbs, cocoa and chocolate, fresh fruit, sugar, rice, vanilla, flowers and honey.*
2. Grown in specific “developing” nations (so items grown in Europe and the US cannot be considered Fair Trade because they are not designated as "developing")

*There are some imported items like basketballs that also bear the Fair Trade label that are not this list

Why Fair Trade Coffee?

Coffee is the world's second most valuable traded commodity, behind only petroleum. Coffee producers, like most agricultural workers around the world, are kept in a cycle of poverty and debt by the current global economy designed to exploit cheap labor and keep consumer prices low.

Coffee is the US's largest food import. The US consumes 1/5 of the world’s coffee. Fair Trade farmers sell only about 20% of their coffee at a Fair Trade price. The rest is sold at the world price, due to lack of demand. (taken from

Other Key Foods to Consider Buying Fair Trade

Fresh Fruit

Fair Trade and Ethical Sourcing Resources 

Greenopia:  A ranking of national and local business on their sustainability efforts, including fair trade. There is no Orange County section, but there are ones for LA and national chains.

Fair Trade Labelling Organizations International- FLO: Includes a list of prohibited materials and trade prices in order to meet minimum Fairtrade standards, as well as a list of producer countries that are covered by Fairtrade standards (“developed” countries like the US are not covered).

Trans Fair: The “Where to Buy” feature on Trans Fair’s site. Unfortunately only lists stores that carry fair trade brands, but does not list restaurants/coffee shops. 

Better World Shopper:  Grades products A-F by category on human rights, the environment, animal protection, community involvement and social justice. Has an iPhone app ($1.99) and pocket guide ($10) for easy reference when shopping.

Fair Trade LA: A group committed to making LA more aware about the importance of Fair Trade. Includes a listing of Orange County stores that sell Fair Trade.

Where to buy other Fair Trade items (from Trans Fair’s site):

 A Greater Gift- a program of SERRV International, one of the first alternative trade organizations in the world and a founding member of the International Fair Trade Association (IFAT).
 Bead for Life- Ugandan women craft beautiful beads out of colorful recycled paper, "eradicating poverty one bead at a time."
 Fair TradeFederation- a membership association of retailers and importers committed to fair trade principles.
 Fair TradeSports- the first sports equipment company in the US. offering fairly traded soccer balls, sports apparel and more.
 GlobalExchange Online Store- shop online with Global Exchange, knowing the products you buy are entirely sweatshop free.
 Mercado Global- a non-profit fair trade organization that links rural and economically-disadvantaged cooperatives to the U.S. market.
Pachamama,World of Artisans- Pachamama works to increase consumer awareness, build equitable producer relationships and bring beautiful fair trade products to the public
 Ten ThousandVillages- One of the world's oldest and largest fair trade organizations, offering jewelry, home décor and gifts.
 World of Good- Berkeley-based World of Good offers ethically sourced gifts, housewares and accessories.

 You may also want to check out my guide to Fair Trade coffee in Orange County

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