5 Ways Your Business Can Support Fairtrade

5 Ways Your Business Can Support Fairtrade


In the world of socially and environmentally focused certifications and seals, Fairtrade is among the most widely recognized. However, while many consumers realize that buying Fairtrade is a better choice, many do not fully understand why.

Part of the confusion is due to the fact that the phrase “fair trade” is applied by some as a blanket term to describe more ethical methods of commerce – to include “shopping small,” “buying local,” or even simply “alternative” business practices.

“Fair trade” and “Fairtrade” are different. Fair trade (two words) is a general term referring to many things – it could be ethical trade, the fair trade movement, or fair trade products. When used as two words, “fair trade” is not a protected term. Some companies make “fair trade” claims without independent, third-party verification to intentionally deceive consumers, while others may simply use the term to describe their ethical trading practices.

“Fairtrade” (one word) means something more. This term is only used by organizations, brands and products that are part of the Fairtrade International system. The blue and green Fairtrade Mark on a product’s packaging indicates that the product meets rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards and that those standards are audited by a third-party – FLOCERT. Additionally, Fairtrade products are those that are helping to enable prosperity and wellbeing in the world’s developing countries by supporting equitable economic development.

How did Fair Trade get started?

Fair trade began in the 1940s in the United States, when Ten Thousand Villages (formerly Self Help Crafts) started purchasing needlework from Puerto Rican artisans. Realizing that many local artisans and farmers were struggling to cover the costs of their businesses, organizations like Ten Thousand Villages in the U.S. and Europe began to see trade as a way to help lift communities in developing countries out of poverty.

People would purchase goods while traveling, bring them back to Europe or the U.S. to sell for a higher price, and then bring the profits back to the artisans and farmers who originally produced them. Of course, this system was easy to exploit without anyone to confirm the profits were indeed returning to the original producers. This ethical gap led to the creation of fair trade organizations throughout developed and developing countries. The growth of fair trade from the late 1960s onwards has primarily been focused on “development trade.”

The movement grew in response to poverty and disasters experienced in developing countries, and was largely led by nonprofits, NGOs, and sometimes religious organizations. Organizations in developed countries partnered with those in developing countries to organize their production, provide social services to producers, and export their products. There was also a branch of “solidarity trade” set up to import goods from select developing countries that were both economically and politically marginalized.

Today, for a good to be considered “Fairtrade,” it must be certified. The certification process is rigorous and complex, generally taking between 6-9 months for a producer to achieve Fairtrade Certified status. The process involves factory assessments and third-party audits, which continue annually after initial certification. Fairtrade Certification also involves a commitment to human rights due diligence, guaranteed minimum pricing, Fairtrade standards, and the Fairtrade Premium, among other requirements.

Is Fairtrade good for business?

There’s growing evidence that embracing Fairtrade values is good for all types of businesses. Recent research from GlobeScan, which examined 15 markets worldwide, reveals that amount of  people who want to take personal action to live sustainably and buy more responsibly continues to increase. In fact, over half (57%) of consumers globally pledged to shop at stores or visit a café with a strong Fairtrade commitment. This data echoes a boom in Fairtrade sales in many countries since the early 2000s, with revenue of Fairtrade International products increasing by over 1,000% worldwide between 2004 and 2018! Indeed, consumer intentions are increasingly translating into action in the check-out line.

GlobeScan’s research further shows that 95% of shoppers who have seen the Fairtrade label now say they buy some Fairtrade products throughout the year, with one-fifth buying multiple Fairtrade products each month, another fifth buying at least one Fairtrade product per month, and nearly three-fifths pledging to shop at stores that have a strong commitment to Fairtrade products. And the label appears to have a “halo effect” on brands, with 78% of those who have seen the Fairtrade Mark reporting it has a positive impact on the brands that carry it.

Although Fairtrade certification has been criticized by some as “marketing malarkey,” and indeed, there have been instances where companies have abused the certification, Fairtrade often does live up to its good intentions. According to Maya Spaull, thought leader in the ethical manufacturing sector, the Fairtrade Certification is “your guarantee that a product was traded in a more ethical way, which supports better working conditions, improves livelihoods and protects the environment.”

How can your organization support Fairtrade?

Organizations of all kinds, from government, to nonprofit, to major corporations and small business, can support Fairtrade’s mission to promote fairer trading conditions and empower producers to combat poverty. Here’s how:

1. Buy Fairtrade Certified goods.  

One of the best ways to support Fairtrade is to incorporate Fairtrade products into your supply chain, product lines, business operations, and lifestyle. Whether you’re in need of office furniture, work clothing, tea, coffee or snacks for the break room (or your kitchen, if you work from home), you can find Fairtrade Certified items to support your business operations. If you offer promotional items like t-shirts, look for Fairtrade Certified options. If you own a retail space, be sure to include Fairtrade Certified items for your customers. Fair Trade USA has a website that makes it easy to shop for Fairtrade Certified goods.

2. Join your local Fairtrade community.

Fairtrade has thousands of groups across the world working to support the global movement for positive change. Fair Trade Towns International helps to connect people with each sector of their community to explore the positive impact of fair trade purchasing. They’ve created a locator to help you find a community and if there isn’t one near you, they have a program to help you create one. They also offer a number of resources to help advance your community’s commitment to social and environmental justice through Fairtrade.  

3. Spread awareness about what buying Fairtrade means.  

Businesses have an incredible platform to help spread awareness. Use your marketing for good and help spread the word about the benefits of buying Fairtrade. Help people get involved in your community and educate them on how they, too, can support the fair trade movement. The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) has some free promotional materials to help. They’ve got a podcast you can listen to, learn from, and share as well.

4. Donate to or volunteer with nonprofits supporting Fairtrade.  

Donating your money or time to nonprofits that partner with Fairtrade organizations around the world can be very impactful. Indeed, while selling Fairtrade certified goods is important, it’s not the only way to support communities in need – other organizations are doing important work too. You can increase your impact by offering financial or volunteer support to organizations that assist in communities where Fairtrade happens. Fairtrade America created a list of 7 nonprofit organizations to get you started.

5. Become a Fairtrade Certified business.

Finally, your business can become a Fairtrade Certified. Now, this may not be relevant or accessible for all businesses. It does generally require the production and sale of a physical good, and there are costs associated with achieving and maintaining certification. But as mentioned above, if you are producing a physical good, the research shows that the investment will likely pay off in the long run. Of course, the goodwill from consumers and other interested parties is in addition to the good you’ll be doing for people and the planet. You can learn more about getting Fairtrade Certified, or other ways to work with Fairtrade International if your business doesn’t qualify, here.

3P INSIGHTS is a consulting firm that offers training, speaking and support services to help organizations attract and retain diverse talent, create inclusive workplaces, become better environmental stewards, and improve their overall social, environmental, and economic impact.

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