Fact vs. Fiction: The Truth About Fair Trade

My local coffee shop sells fair-trade coffee. I love their coffee, but for a long time never gave much consideration to what that really meant. I knew it was "good," but I wasn't sure why.

Fair trade is a term we often hear thrown around when it comes to coffee, tea, produce and even diamonds. What does it mean, though, and how much difference does buying fair-trade food and products really make?

Products that are fair-trade certified meet specific labor, environmental and developmental standards. The certification system covers a number of products, and the list continues to grow. Fruit, cotton, vegetables and wine are a few main ones, with coffee and tea leading the pack in fair-trade certification. Certifying precious gems is being looked at closely, preceded by companies specializing in conflict-free diamonds, such as Brilliant Earth.

Fair trade has been in the works for quite some time, but a major breakthrough happened in 2001, when USA Today ran an article on fair-trade certified coffee and TransFair USA launched FTC (fair-trade certified) tea. These actions highlighted poverty in the coffee industry and consumers took note.

Fair-trade standards enable a democratic decision-making system so that each community, such as small farmers' organizations, can determine how their funds are used. This improves the quality of life for the individuals involved in each unique community. An especially important aspect of fair trade is that monies are specifically designated for social, economic and environmental development projects. Employees must receive minimum wages and child labor is not allowed. Health and safety requirements must also be met.

Products that are fair trade aren't necessarily organic, although they often are. However, FTC products are also non-GMO (not genetically modified).

Since a clean and healthy working environment improves living and working conditions for farmers and workers, environmental standards are important. Guidelines are in place to protect water resources, promote agricultural diversification, restrict the use of pesticides and fertilizers, ban use of GMOs and require waste, water and energy to be properly managed.

Fair-trade certified products can sometimes cost more than conventional products, but not always.

While products like coffee and chocolate might be priced competitively with other coffee or chocolates, something like bananas might cost more than conventional bananas because small cooperatives often incur higher costs to bring their products to market.

Clothing and cotton are new additions to fair-trade certification. This will directly impact the farmers who grow the cotton and the workers who sew the garments. This means our purchases do matter.

Wondering where to start? Support your own community by finding a local coffee shop that sells fair-trade coffee and tea. Research your favorite brands to see if their clothes are made in a sustainable way under fair-trade guidelines. Consciously consider your food purchases and read your labels. This is especially important considering the defeat of Prop 37.

Here's some links to get you started:

What are your favorite fair-trade companies? Does this labeling make a difference in what you purchase?

Share your comments below!

Monique Minahan is a writer, yogo and lover of life. She's inspired by nature's simplicity and the healing power of love. She finds true liberation in living life fully from the inside out. Her intention is to offer her heart to the world through words that motivate, inspire, and encourage. You can visit her at her blog, mindfulmo.com

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