From water bottles to chocolate, athletic equipment to office supplies, over the past decade many companies have developed fair trade and ethically sourced products. Companies that did not originally incorporate these practices into their business models are increasingly changing their operating principles. A large part of this trend is due to the purchasing power of consumers, who are concerned with the environmental, social, and legal impact of their spending.

Fair trade (as defined by the Fair Trade Foundation) is about providing reasonable prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and equitable terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. It is about improving the position of producers within the poorest countries so that they are able to sell their goods on a global market and build a stronger, more vital economy.

Fair trade is overseen globally by the Fair Trade Labelling Organization (FLO) with sub-groups for countries and regions. However, in September 2011, Fair Trade USA (FTUSA) announced that it unilaterally decided to resign from its membership in the FLO. They also intend to make changes to some of the criteria for determining which products are certified as fair trade. 

The main point of contention that caused the split was a difference of opinion regarding the definition of hired labor, particularly within the coffee industry. Traditionally, fair trade coffee certification only included products from smallholder farms, usually from families who own a plot of land within a cooperative and farm it themselves.  FTUSA is currently looking to extend fair trade certification to estate and plantation coffee farmers and has a pilot project in Brazil. Various American organizations, including United Students for Fair Trade, have strongly opposed these changes.

FTUSA has also announced a new ‘Multiple Ingredients Product Policy’ whereby products that are at least 20% fair trade will carry a new type of fair tradelogo. This change is contentious, as many view this measure as one that “waters down” international fair tradestandards.

Regardless of the controversy, fair trade certification is still a useful way for consumers to guarantee that companies are meeting fair trade guidelines. Currently, there are three fair trade logos, including the “multiple ingredients” logo. When shopping in the United States, look for the logo on the  left, which is located on the label or packaging of the product. If outside the United States, look for the logo on the right. To find a listing of fair trade products, check out Fair trade USA. They have products sorted by type, from apparel and sports equipment to honey, coffee, and spirits. Fair Trade USA also has an interactive map which includes the countries that are helped by fair trade practices and a section with detailed impact reports on various industries.

The Fair trade Resourcing Network (FTRN) recently launched an interactive map of the United States called I Spot Fair Trade. This map allows users to zoom into the location of the stores, making it easy to find fair trade dealers in your community. FTRN also has many resources on their main website, including event listing, reading and film recommendations, and how to become further involved in the movement.

Additionally, there are several products and stores that retail across the country. Ten Thousand Villages is a national chain where fair trade home goods, soaps, and artwork is sold. Divine Chocolate and Honest Tea are both fair trade brands that widely sell in grocery and convenience stores. You can order fair trade coffee at

Other resources that are not fair trade specific, but useful for determining corporate responsibility are Free2Work, a free Android or iPhone application, and B Corporation, a non-profit that certifies businesses as socially and environmentally responsible. Free2Work allows users to scan product barcodes and provides ratings of brands and their trafficking and labour policies. B Corporation has a listing of certified companies here, which are required to meet rigorous standards and many of which are fair trade.

To some extent, what you buy is a reflection of who you are; your preferences and tastes. Use these fair trade and ethical consumerism resources to reflect your beliefs.



Defeat Poverty

An introduction to Fair Trade