Photos courtesy of The Little Market

Conscious shoppers have a lot to consider during their everyday purchases–whether it’s the types of ingredients in products at the grocery store, how clothes are manufactured, or where the material comes from. One predominant concept in conscious shopping is “Fair Trade.” This phrase is commonly used, but what does it really mean? More importantly, why does it matter?

First, what is “Fair Trade”? In 2009, Fairtrade International and the World Fair Trade Organization adopted the Charter of Fair Trade Principles. The Charter was established to create an all-encompassing reference for Fair Trade. According to the Charter: “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.” Some key components of Fair Trade include:

  • No child labor
  • No forced labor
  • Fair wages for workers
  • Commitment to non-discrimination
  • Commitment to gender equality
  • Commitment to women’s economic empowerment
  • Safe working conditions

Second, who are the key players? There are the marginalized small producers creating the products, whether these are independent family businesses, or grouped in associations or co-operatives. Fair Trade seeks to move these groups into economic self-sufficiency and ownership. Other players include the companies and businesses that source and buy the product, as oftentimes the small producers are unable to market and sell directly to customers. Then there are, of course, the customers. As mentioned in the Charter’s definition of Fair Trade, the consumer is behind any Fair Trade organization. Without a demand for the products, the trading system breaks down. Finally, there are the monitoring and certification organizations, including World Fair Trade Organization, International Fairtrade, and Fair Trade Federation.

Finally, what is the impact? Fair Trade practices have an incredible impact on people’s lives all around the world. There are over 1.4 million Fairtrade farmers and workers across 70 countries around the world. (Source: In 2004 alone, the U.S. market for fair trade products grew by over 80%. Fair trade products are now available in over 30,000 retailers from over 400 companies (Source: Shoppers have a great responsibility as global citizens. With every purchase and every dollar spent, in a way, you are casting a vote. Your vote can maintain the status quo, or it can advance a more equitable and just world. Fair Trade shopping puts people first and challenges the rules and practice of conventional trade. Conscious shoppers are using their dollars to make a difference in people’s lives around the world. And hey, you can get some pretty incredible products while doing it!

If you want to learn more, here are some helpful resources:

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From the Editor
At Conscious, we are inspired by stories that cause us to think differently and think big-picture and so we set out to tell stories with the help of leaders and influencers in the social good community. You can read more stories like this when you Sign-up for the Weekly and Subscribe to Conscious Magazine.