Consumers are increasingly becomingmore aware of where their food is coming from, and if it was safely andethically produced. It can be difficult to know the quality of your food bysimply looking at the colorful, and creatively marketed, packages on grocerystore shelves, but there are ways to know what products are sourcedresponsibly. Fair trade certification groups are non-profit organizations thataim to encourage ethical practices and create transparency between corporationsand consumers. If all American corporations were required to become fair tradecertified it would benefit the corporation, the workers (in the United Statesand internationally), the environment, and the consumers.
Fora company to be considered fair trade they must meet several strict standardsset by certification organizations. Specific ingredients, small businesses, andeven entire corporations are able become certified, depending on what optionsare available at each certification organization. Specific standards betweeneach organization may vary slightly, but the main goals remain the same.Providing a fair livable wage and improved working conditions for workers,using environmentally sustainable practices, and investing in communities areprimary focuses for fair trade groups. Thoseemployed through a fair trade company receive several benefits which improvesafety, health, wealth, and overall quality of life in fair trade communities.Unfortunately, it is common for companies that choose to outsource labor todeveloping countries to take advantage of workers and pay them well below afair wage. Fair trade companies promise to pay workers a fair wage for theirwork, and make sure that employees are provided with a livable wage; theseprices vary depending on the country, type of product being sold, and thecurrent market price for that product.
Safer working conditions is anotherstandard that is heavily enforced. This means workers are provided with theproper equipment (such as gloves and other protective gear) and are properlytrained in order to reduce the risk of injuries. Child labor is strictlyprohibited, though this is something that remains an issue in many developingcountries. Because of this rule, fair trade companies help give childrenopportunities to attend school instead of work and avoid harmful conditions,despite the lack of child labor laws in their country. Women are stronglyencouraged to become fair trade farmers and own their own land. According totheir website, Fairtrade International claims that over 43% of women make upthe agricultural labor source in developing countries. The organizationcontinues to fight the gender gap by encouraging gender positivity for womenand educating them on health, in addition to job training and educating them onsustainable farming practices (Fairtrade International 2017). In addition, farmersreceive extra money so they can invest in social, economic, and developmentprojects in their communities.
The Community Development fund is given directlyto farmers and they are able to decide how the money is spent, giving them theability to invest in the resources their community needs the most. WholesomeHarvest, a tomato farm in Amado, Arizona, shared how the Community DevelopmentFund positively impacted their business and allowed them to invest in theirworkers and community. Eighty thousand dollars donated by Fair Trade Certifiedgave Wholesome Harvest the ability to pay for transportation, healthinsurance fees and home insurance for their employees, as well as working todevelop project management skills (Clark 2017). Althoughit appears that following all the fair trade guidelines would cost businessesmore money and possibly create a loss of profits, becoming certified canactually increase revenue and consumer support. Since consumers are beginningto demand products that are more ethical and environmentally friendly,corporations are feeling increasingly pressured to change their products andpractices to please shoppers. By placing a fair trade certified logo onproducts, companies advertise that they are socially responsible; which canpersuade some to choose their product over another (non-fair trade) competitor.Many people are even willing to pay a higher price to support a company thatthey believe is ethical and responsible.
A study through Stanford Universityfound that coffee sales grew nearly ten percent when products contained a fairtrade label, even when prices rose by eight percent (Hainmueller, Hiscox, andSequeria 2014). The market is changing, slowly progressing in a direction thatcreates honesty and transparency between buyers and companies. Falkenburg andBrunsael (2011) studied multiple corporations and concluded that, “manycompetitors are becoming certified; those which do not have certification areexpected to be at a disadvantage.” Some skepticalshoppers may be afraid that purchasing fair trade products does little for theconsumer, and may even cost them more money, but choosing these certified itemscan provide you with higher quality products and help make a statement aboutwhat kind of companies and practices youchoose to support. These companies take great pride in their products andworkers, so as a result high quality products are sold. For many, the peace of mind that comes alongwith knowing you are supporting a company that is improving the lives of otheris worth a slightly higher price. While there may not be any current laws tomake fair trade certification an obligation for companies, there are thingsyou, as a consumer, can do to support these socially responsible companies andencourage the market to head in a more ethical direction. Supply and demandmeans that most companies will change their products and practices to followthe market, whatever customers are buying and demanding, to ensure a steadyflow of profit.
The choices we make impacts more than ourselves, it extends toworkers all over the world, to the success of corporations, and to the overallhealth of our planet. Something thatbenefits nearly everyone, even those that do not purchase these certifieditems, are the environmental benefits of Fairtrade products and standards.Being certified requires following set guidelines that fight climate change andprovide a cleaner environment for farmers and their communities. “Why FairTrade Means Protecting the Environment, Too” digs deeper into specificstandards set; such as enhancing soil by applying sustainable irrigationpractices, crop rotation for example, and sourcing water sustainably (FairTrade USA 2012). GMOs are prohibited and farmers must handle agrochemicalssafely and minimize their use.
While organic certification is not required, fairtrade does offer producers extra training and a higher price incentive fororganic products. Because of this, over half of all producers worldwide holdorganic certificates; creating safer and cleaner communities, free ofpesticides. To add to this responsibility, farmers are expected to developsustainable and safe management plans for pests and waste throughfarmer education (Fair Trade Certified 2017). Dedication to communityinvestments allows for environmental education, which leads to advancements insustainability, reduction of water and chemical usage, and properly allocatedresources. While forcingevery company to become fair trade certified would be challenging and wouldrequire a great deal of legal changes, the benefits would ultimately out waythe costs. Even if the United States never enforces these standards, positivechanges can be made by consumer requests for ethical products.
Ethicalpractices can drastically improve the lives of workers around the world, whileproviding benefits to corporations, consumers, and the environment. Even if aslight price increase is passed on to the consumer, most would willingly paythe cost for the peace of mind that comes with it. Individuals, communities,and the earth should not suffer because of large corporations and greed. We canall do better to encourage and enforce corporate social responsibility; fair tradecertification helps America take a huge step in the right direction.