It seems our food and products have so many labels these days – “organic,” “local,” “cruelty-free,” and now the latest is “fair trade.” This particular label is not only found on foods, but on crafts, clothing and even beauty products. But exactly is fair trade, and how can the environment benefit from it?

fair-trade-coffee

Image source: maxhavelaar.com

Standards of living vary worldwide –that is a fact. In some countries, particularly third world or developing countries, people can survive on less money than those of, say, first world nations. Salaries are naturally much lower and this cheap labor is what attracts multinational companies to poor nations like China, Sri Lanka, India, etc. Even with shipping costs considered, paying factory workers 2 cents an hour equates to larger profit margins. That means low prices to consumers and bigger profits for companies. Does that seem like a deal? To you maybe, who just got those awesome boots for a mere $20. But what about the people who made your shoes, toiling away in a far-away factory (probably under poor working conditions)? What about their environment, with those factories probably spewing out tons of carbon and toxic pollution each day, just so you can strut your stuff?

Fair trade ensures that the people who make the stuff you buy have good working conditions, have sustainable practices and, most importantly, get a FAIR PRICE for their goods. That means that they get the proper percentage of what their product costs to you (the consumer), rather than what they can live on. But why should you care whether that farmer in Nicaragua is getting a nice profit from the latte you’re sipping on?

There are many reasons to buy fair trade. How about the most important one first – because it’s only fair! You would never work for half your salary now, would you? So why should they be any different? Fair trade guarantees that even the poorest of the poor, who are often exploited in traditional markets, can live dignified lives and provide for their families. Eventually, the goal should be to eliminate the cycle of poverty and raise their standard of living.

max-havelaar-fair-trade

Image source: maxhavelaar.com

But basic human caring aside, there are other reasons as well, most importantly, fair trade can help our growing problem with the environment and climate change. When producers can actually turn a profit, they are more likely to use better farm management techniques and sustainable procedures. Banana farmers in the Dominican Republic, for example, have stopped using plastic bags to package their products. In India, tea companies have used some of their profit to invest in solar panels, allowing them to do away with wood-burning heaters. In fact, in the UK, for any producer to be labeled “fair trade,” they must follow certain standards and are encouraged to become environmentally friendly. Sustainable practices are a must for any fair trade producer. In turn, these practices and better farming techniques are better for the over-all quality of life for everyone.  Fair trade may cost much more, but it’s certainly worth every penny.

So next time you see that sweater at Wal-Mart for  $6.99, think of what it REALLY costs.

By Maria Belgado

Additional resources:
Fairtrade Foundation UK
Transfair USA
Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO)
European Fair Trade Association