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At some point while shopping, you must have come across the term ‘ fairtrade’. That elusive label has been a beacon that beckons to all socially conscious consumers ever since the mid 80s, when it first made its appearance to denote that the production of said goods had a positive social impact on the farmers’ lives and on their communities and to certify the absence of any middlemen, that the product is eco-friendly etc.

fairtrade shopping clothes

Nowadays the fairtrade movement, which strives to support workers and farmers all around the world by ensuring that they are being paid fair wages and that they are treated ethically, has grown by leaps and bounds. In fact, more than $5 billion fairtrade goods are sold every year! It’s great that modern consumers actually care about the well-being of the people who make the products they buy – and they seem quite happy to pay a higher price in order to ensure their favorite items are Fair Trade certified.

fairtrade social impact

Since this obviously looks like a ‘win-win’ situation, one would expect that going fairtrade would be a major goal for all businesses – who wouldn’t want to make a bigger profit while helping others in the process? Well, things are a little complicated right now in the fairtrade movement, but the gist is that Fair Trade USA, which is the main certifier in the States, recently left the Fair Trade International (FTI), which is the global certification body. This fairtrade foundation ‘divorce’ has brought on a lot of controversy in the movement, and has raised a multitude of issues that are far too complex and long to discuss in this article. However, it is important to understand that both certifiers are nothing but auditing firms. Their purpose is to audit businesses and examine the way they operate. If the company’s MO matches what’s on the certifier’s checklist, then they are eligible to obtain that coveted ‘fairtrade’ label -for a price. And, unfortunately, the membership fee, along with the annual fees that companies are expected to cough up, can amount to several hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The cost is definitely too high for budding businesses that are slowly trying to stand on their own two feet in order to make a difference in third world or underdeveloped countries.

fairtrade ugandan women

The meaning of fairtrade is slowly changing, as well, as it seems to be veering away from the democratically organized cooperatives of small-scale producers of the past, and moving towards larger scale operations. Lately, fairtrade certified corporations seem to be on the rise, regardless of whether they are well known for actually putting in the effort to change their practices for the better, or their brand has become synonymous to misconduct!

Not to mention that the fairtrade foundation makes things difficult for companies that work with various workshops or farms, since auditing all of them would be impractical, expensive and very time-consuming. Besides, the way the system currently works doesn’t take into account the quality of the products; higher quality products that turn in a bigger profit should, in turn, raise the makers’ wages – maybe even higher than the minimum that’s required in order to be certified.

fairtrade maker story

So, just what can small businesses do, if they can’t afford to get certified -or even if they don’t care to? How can they prove to their customers that they do treat their artisans or makers ethically, and that they do pay them more than fair wages? Wild Tussah’s approach is simple, yet effective; responsibility and transparency! If a brand is operating a responsible sourcing program, and if its entire production process is completely transparent and sustainable, as well as easily accessible and verified, then the consumers can take a look for themselves and see whether the company’s MO fits their system of values and beliefs or not.

fairtrade internet research company wild tussah

Since we are (thankfully) living in a digital era, all companies can communicate with their client base in a more direct way, by presenting them with media and articles relating to their positive social and environmental impact. All it takes is a little time for the consumers to get an idea of what the company stands for, and whether they want to support its work or not. Besides, all that money that would otherwise be spent on an official fairtrade certification should probably go towards cementing a starting company’s foundation, as well as ensuring that the workers are being paid fairly, instead… Wouldn’t you agree?

We’d love to hear what you think about fairtrade and if you think everyone business should be certified. Either comment below or tweet at us!


1. The Fair Trade Controversy You Didn’t Know About

2. Not Fairtrade. And why that’s okay

3. Fair Trade Pros & Cons

4. Selling Fair Trade: Pros and cons



This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. As I’m becoming more involved with Sustainable and Ethical Fashion, I wanted to know the difference between these and Fair Trade. I honestly started as a supporter of Fair Trade, and although I think the intentions of Fair Trade are good, they don’t always reach their goals. I still think companies can be transparent and honest about how they manufacture and do good without having the Fair Trade label. I’ll be checking out your other posts to learn more about these differences!

    1. I think having the ‘Fair Trade Certified’ label just makes it easier for consumers not familiar with their brands to pick one off the shelf. I’ve found that there are so many other brands out there that follow same ethics as Fair Trade companies, but just haven’t gone down that route of getting certified. If we are buying more sustainably then we will take the time to learn about our brands and research them before making impulsive buys. Thanks again for reading Brooke. If you have any blog recommendations, please let me know! wildtussah (at) -Danica, Wild Tussah Founder

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