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Everything You Need to Know About Becoming Fair Trade Certified

image for VLG/Getty Images
VLG/Getty Images

You've heard about Fair Trade USA, but what do you know about it or what it means to be Fair Trade certified? According to the Fair Trade Certified site, "fair trade is a global movement made up of a diverse network of producers, companies, shoppers, advocates and organizations putting people and the planet first." 

Fair Trade USA is a nonprofit and the leading certifier of Fair Trade products in North America. The organization works to promote sustainable livelihoods for small producers and workers in the agriculture, fishing, apparel and home goods industries. Fair Trade products can be found in over 6,000 U.S. retail locations, but the certification processes for each product, and the standards to which its producers are held, differ greatly. 

Here's a closer look at the Fair Trade certification process and some of the standards the organization expects its producers to uphold. 

Fair Trade certification requires passing regular, rigorous evaluations by third-party auditors that track transactions along the supply chain between more than 1,200 companies and nearly 500 producer organizations. 

Becoming Fair Trade certified opens up new markets for businesses so their products compete in international markets. 

Certified entities can sell their products with the Fair Trade Certified label or seal. In addition, a percentage of the profits, called the Fair Trade Premium, goes back to the producers, farmers, and workers to promote sustainable incomes and safe working conditions. For consumers, the label or seal provides assurance that the products meet Fair Trade's exacting standards and requirements. 

Purchasing Fair Trade-certified products helps reduce poverty, promote environmentally friendly production processes, and assure humane working conditions for farmers and workers worldwide. 

"Fair trade makes free trade work for the world's poor," said Paul Rice, Fair Trade USA's founder, president and CEO. 

Products certified as fair trade ensure equitable trade practices at every level of the supply chain through transparent business practices. In addition, the Fair Trade license generates funding, which is distributed to Fair Trade communities. These funds are designated for social, economic and environmental development projects, such as schools and scholarships, leadership training and organic certification. 

Farm workers face exposure to toxic chemicals, heat stress, workplace accidents, and health and nutrition issues. In fact, farm work is the eighth most dangerous job in the United States

One of the greatest challenges farm workers face is the lack of access to health insurance and medical care. Fair Trade provides workers and farmers with health and safety protections, including safe working conditions and sustainable wages. 

Child and slave labor is strictly prohibited. Fair Trade-certified farms, packing plants and housing are audited (and held accountable) to ensure safe and sanitary working and living conditions, including the use of protective equipment to prevent injuries and limit pesticide exposure. 

Shoppers interested in Fair Trade-certified products can be assured they are free of genetically engineered ingredients, and are produced with limited amounts of pesticides and fertilizers. Fair Trade farms also employ proper waste management systems as well as water and energy usage.   

There are several product categories that fall under the Fair Trade certification banner, including

  • Bananas and avocados: When you buy Fair Trade bananas, producers are paid the Fair Trade Minimum Price and the Fair Trade Premium, an additional sum of money that is earmarked for communal funds that farmers use to improve living and working conditions. Fair Trade standards ensure the farmers and workers aren't exposed to certain toxic chemicals and that working conditions are closely monitored.

  • Chocolate: Although the general demand for chocolate is high, the price for cocoa beans has fallen in recent years. Choosing Fair Trade chocolate helps make cocoa farming a more sustainable practice; Fair Trade standards ensure the ban on child labor is upheld and that the farmers and workers are paid a fair price for cocoa beans.

  • Coffee: Fair Trade-certified coffee beans are grown on cooperative, small-scale farms in Latin American, African and Asian communities. Fair Trade coffee bean cooperative farms are paid the Fair Trade Minimum Price and the Fair Trade Premium, which protects the farmers from price fluctuations in the market, promotes business growth, and helps protect the environment.

  • Textiles and Clothing – Fair Trade textiles and clothing are made with certified cotton. Choosing Fair Trade fashions ensures that producers are paid a fair price for their cotton. Several companies that sell Fair Trade clothing include Dhana Inc., Gallant International, Nudie Jeans and Soul Space Yoga. If you're looking for Fair Trade jewelry, Hoover and Strong and Reflective Jewelry both sell gold jewelry. 

You can apply to become Fair Trade Certified by completing Fair Trade USA's online application form, which asks for information about you and your company, including

  • 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. You can choose from 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 representative will contact and work with you to register your company for certification and, if applicable, get your product and your proposed Fair Trade-certified packaging approved. Once certified, the Fair Trade holds its producers to exacting standards. Certification is a continuous process, so businesses must adhere to Fair Trade USA's standards to maintain their certification. 

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. 

Every time consumers buy Fair Trade-certified fruits, vegetables, flowers or other products, they're putting money back into the hands of the farmers who grew and harvested those crops, giving those farmers more control over their future. For the sellers, responsible sourcing for their products creates shared value throughout their supply chain. 

In addition to responsible resourcing, your Fair Trade certification demonstrates your support of paying workers fair wages and responsible environmental business practices. 

With the public's growing interest in sustainability, environmental responsibility and ecological standards, many consumers are inclined to purchase Fair Trade-certified products. In addition, becoming associated 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.

Julianna Lopez

Julianna Lopez is a freelance writer, editor, and social media marketer. She loves all things New York, books, movies and theater. If you're interested in her services, you can reach her at lopez.julianna6@gmail.com.