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Updated Dec 20, 2023

How (and Why) to Become Fair Trade Certified

Fair Trade certification shows customers and employees that your brand is committed to sustainability and fair business practices throughout the supply chain, from sourcing to production to sale.

Ross Mudrick
Ross Mudrick, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
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Editor Reviewed
This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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The Fair Trade Certified seal appears on a fast-growing number of products, but what does it mean? Your customers could be looking for Fair Trade businesses, putting you at a competitive disadvantage if you’re not Fair Trade Certified. However, attaining Fair Trade certification might just give you a leg up on your competition to attract new customers and drive sales, boosting profits while protecting people and the planet.

How to become Fair Trade certified

If you think your product qualifies for Fair Trade certification and your business would benefit, you can apply to become Fair Trade Certified by completing Fair Trade USA’s online application form. You will need to provide information about you and your company, including the following:

  • Your company’s name, the name of your parent company (if applicable) and your contact information
  • The category that best describes your company or the product you’d like to certify (apparel and home goods, coffee, consumer packaged goods, produce, seafood, or other)
  • Your company’s role (such as brand holder, importer, manufacturer or retailer) 

After you submit your application, a Fair Trade USA representative will contact and work with you to register your product for certification and move forward with the audits. If your product qualifies, your representative will then work with you to get your proposed Fair Trade Certified packaging approved. 

Once certified, producers are held to exacting standards. Certification is a continuous process, so businesses must continue to adhere to Fair Trade USA’s standards to maintain their certification. Expect regular audits to ensure that your product and the production process remain in compliance with Fair Trade guidelines.

Fair Trade USA certifies specific products, not companies or businesses, so you’ll need to complete a separate process for every product that you want to have certified.

Did You Know?Did you know
More than 1,400 companies have chosen Fair Trade certification to meet their sustainability goals, increase brand trust and reach more shoppers.

Why become Fair Trade Certified?

“Conscious consumerism” is on the rise, and customers prefer sustainable brands. In recent surveys, two-thirds of all respondents and three-quarters of millennial respondents said that sustainability is a factor when they make a purchase. Millennials comprise 72 million consumers, making them a critical demographic for many businesses. However, marketing to millennials can be a challenge that requires novel strategies.

Smart companies see a clear opportunity here, but it can be difficult to show customers that your commitment to sustainability is more than just greenwashing or a marketing push. Additionally, with an ever-growing amount of purchases made online – especially sales on mobile and social media – companies need to get creative about how to distinguish their products from their competitors’.

Ethical certifications can bridge this gap. Customers don’t always have the time or interest to do the research themselves, particularly at a time when so many supply chains span multiple countries. They look for certifications and other ethical metrics, like organic food and apparel, sustainable packaging, and green business ideas. These logos let customers make decisions with the confidence that the product has been verified by a trusted source.

Fair Trade USA audits the supply chain and production process of every product that carries its seal for safe working conditions, environmental protection, sustainability and fair economic standards, reserving the designation of Fair Trade Certified for those that meet its rigorous standards.

Though Fair Trade was originally associated with coffee and chocolate, its purview has expanded in recent years. Today, clothing and jewelry, produce, home goods, health and body care products, snack foods, cooking and baking products, seafood, and more can carry the Fair Trade Certified seal if they meet industry standards.

The purpose of the Fair Trade producer standards

Fair Trade USA’s standards are designed to protect global workers and the environment. The organization regularly reviews standards to ensure they’re providing maximum value to producers and workers while still remaining practical for businesses. These standards encompass sustainable prices and wages, safe working conditions, biodiversity, and sustainable production, as well as how the Fair Trade Premium is allocated to improve farms, factories, fisheries and businesses.

More information for each of the categories is available on Fair Trade USA’s website.

What are the benefits of Fair Trade products for buyers and sellers?

Consumers feel good about buying Fair Trade Certified fruits, vegetables, flowers and other products. They know that they’re putting money back into the hands of the farmers, makers and producers who grew those crops or created other personal goods, that they’re minimizing their environmental footprint, and that they’re keeping industries sustainable.

Associating with Fair Trade policies and standards can help your company attract top talent in a competitive hiring market. Fair Trade certification is a win for businesses, people and the planet.

For sellers, responsible sourcing creates shared value throughout their supply chain. Fair Trade certification signals that you’re taking action to promote fair wages across your supply chain, sustainable environmental practices, and safe and clean working conditions, as well as helping to put producers in charge of their own future. In a competitive marketplace, Fair Trade certification can be a critical key differentiator.

Fair Trade certification can also be part of a thoughtful social media strategy. With millennials looking to support companies that they believe in, highlighting elements of the supply chain, alongside Fair Trade certification, can give customers a sense of your company’s values and how they’re being put into practice. 

With the public’s growing interest in sustainability, environmental responsibility and ecological standards, many consumers are inclined to purchase Fair Trade Certified products. Programs like these can push entire industries to get serious about sustainability, driving long-term change. This is particularly strategic if you’ve already done the work to make sustainability part of your business model.

Julianna Lopez contributed to the writing and research in this article.

Ross Mudrick
Ross Mudrick, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
Ross Mudrick has more than 10 years of experience counseling organizations on fundraising, strategic communications and operations development. Over the course of his career, his consultative services have helped organizations obtain grants from the U.S. State Department, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York and many others. Past clients include the New York City Economic Development Corporation and Mudrick is well-versed in crafting budget proposals, business cases, press releases and more documentation. Recently, his work has expanded to recommending the best business software for nonprofits and other enterprises. Mudrick holds a masters in public administration from NYU, where he studied adaptable organizations and systems management.
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