The Beginners Guide to Fair Trade Shopping

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SEATTLE, Washington — Ever wondered why bargains like purses at Forever 21 are so cheap? Based on the 2017 Ethical Fashion Report, Forever 21’s environment rating is ‘very poor’ and its labor rating is ‘not good enough.’ Many bargain deals can only be steals because companies save money by doing unethical things. For example, they pay workers less than $4 an hour, less than a living wage. This guide to fair trade shopping can be helpful for consumers to decipher what products are ethically made.

As more people have grown to recognize bargains come at a price, fair trade shopping has increased. Fair trade is the process of ethical trade practices that reduce poverty for farmers and workers to ensure better wages and fair practices. This practice seeks to build up local communities and treat employees well. Currently, fair trade products are sold in 120 of the 195 countries of the world. At least 1.7 million farmers and workers are involved in fair trade practices.

Why There Are Multiple Fair Trade Labels

Trade International, Fair Trade U.S.A. and Fair for Life are just a few fair trade labels. There are so many different labels because different organizations have different regulations and standards. It is important to research labels to find out the criteria. Fair World Project’s “2020 International Guide to Fair Trade Labels” is a great place to start researching labels. Here are a few of the most popular fair trade labels to look out for when shopping fair trade. All of these labels have been vetted by the Fair World Project’s “2020 International Guide to Fair Trade Labels.”

  1. Fairtrade International is one of the best known fair trade labels out there. Its mission is to, “connect disadvantaged producers and consumers, promote fairer trading conditions and empower producers to combat poverty, strengthen their position and take more control over their lives.” Fairtrade International encompasses a range of products such as apparel, home goods, flowers and sports balls. It also regulates foods and beverages like cocoa, coffee, fruits and vegetables and herbs and spices.
  2. Fair Trade USA products can be bought throughout North America. It has its own extensive certification process. Its mission is to build, “an innovative model of responsible business, conscious consumerism and shared value to eliminate poverty and enable sustainable development for farmers, workers, their families and their communities around the world.”  
  3. Fair For Life is another popular fair trade label. It certifies food and personal products such as soap. While many other labels only certify finished products, Fair For Life certifies every step of the manufacturing process. Its mission is to, “Provide a framework within which each actor can engage to make fair trade principles a reality in its supply chain.” It has three main principles: Defining clear requirements, guaranteeing control of these requirements and ensuring truthful information is available about the requirements and methods. 
  4. Other fair trade labels to look out for are Association for Fair and Sustainable Tourism (ATES), Biopartenaire, Naturland Fair, Small Producers’ Symbol (SPS) and World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO).

Shopping for Fair Trade Products

As fair trade is growing to be more popular, many local grocery stores carry fair trade options. Shopping for clothes can be more tricky. Often, the only way to buy 100 percent fair trade clothes is by shopping online. The website and app Good On You is a good place to find stores that sell everything from glasses, jewelry, apparel and purses that meet fair-trade standards. There’s a search option where one can search for any brand of clothing. There is even a rating and analysis of how ethical the company is. For shopping in person, Fair Trade Winds is a store that has multiple locations that have fair trade products.

Shopping for electronics can be especially tricky. Shopping refurbished is always a good and cheaper option. When looking for something newer, however, there are companies out there like Fairphone, Nimble and LSTN which sell fair trade electronics.

While fair trade can be more expensive than non-fair trade products, it really makes a difference. If fair trade shopping is beyond a person’s means due to pricing, buying less is a better option in general when possible. These organizations are working to better the lives of workers around the world. By buying fair trade, people can be a part of ensuring proper wages and working conditions for those making the products.

Emily Oomen
Photo: Flickr

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