Fair Trade Certification: Everything You Need To Know

Fair Trade Certification promotes sustainable farming practices and plays a crucial role in fostering social and environmental responsibility in global trade.

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Fair Trade Certification: Everything You Need To Know

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Key takeaways

  • Fair Trade Certification demonstrates that products meet Fair Trade Standards that promote safe labor conditions, fair wages, and sustainable production practices.
  • Fair Trade clothing brands support Fair Trade practices, such as providing workers with safe working environments and fair wages. They also promote transparency in the supply network. 
  • Certifications like Fairtrade or those endorsed by Fair Trade organizations help consumers identify and trust Fair Trade products.

Conscious consumption is on the rise. According to a 2023 PwC study, more than 7 out of 10 consumers stated they would be willing to pay more for sustainably produced products (PwC, 2023). As a result, many brands strive to get certifications like the Fairtrade certification to demonstrate their commitment to ethical and sustainable production. 

But what exactly is Fair Trade certification? In this guide, we’ll explore what it is, how to become Fair Trade certified, and more. 

What Is Fair Trade Certification?

Fair Trade certification is a product certification within the global Fair Trade movement. The certification ensures that farmers and workers in developing countries receive fair compensation for their labor and resources, empowering them to improve their livelihoods and communities. It also promotes decent working conditions while providing workers with social development opportunities.

While various Fair Trade certifications are recognized worldwide, the one issued by Fairtrade International is the most common and widely recognized. Fairtrade International is a non-profit organization that sets the Fairtrade Standards and oversees the certification process. The organization issues the International Fairtrade Certification Mark. Recognized globally, the organization's certification is used in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.

What Are Fair Trade Standards?

The Fair Trade standards are a set of criteria that producers must meet to be certified as Fair Trade. 

The standards cover a wide range of social, economic, and environmental issues, including:

  • A fair price for producers: Fairtrade producers receive a fair price for their products, which is set above the market price and is adjusted annually to reflect changes in the cost of living. This ensures they can make a decent living and invest in their businesses and communities.
  • Decent labor conditions: Fairtrade standards require that producers provide decent labor conditions for their workers. This ensures workers are treated fairly and have a voice in their workplace.
  • Social development: Fairtrade producers must use part of their Fairtrade premium to invest in social development projects, such as education, healthcare, and infrastructure. This improves the lives of producers and their communities.
  • Environmental sustainability: Fairtrade standards require that producers adopt sustainable practices, such as water conservation and the use of organic farming methods. This protects the environment and ensures future generations can benefit from the resources of the land.

How to Become Fair Trade Certified

To be certified, producers and retailers must meet all of the Fairtrade Standards provided by Fairtrade International. To become certified by Fairtrade International, applicants must be certified by FLOCERT, an accredited certification body.

Here are the steps producers, retailers and manufacturers must follow to be certified by Fairtrade International:

  • Apply to be certified: Organizations can apply to be certified by filling out an online form on the FLOCERT website or through their local Fairtrade organizations.
  • Undergo an audit: Organizations that want to acquire the Fairtrade certification must undergo an audit to assess their compliance with the Fairtrade Standards.
  • Receive certification: If found to be compliant with Fairtrade Standards, applicants will receive the Fairtrade certification.

However, it's worth noting that the certification process can take several months depending on the organization's size (number of workers), the number of Fairtrade products it wants to offer, and other factors. 

What Types of Products Can Acquire Fair Trade Certification?

Various products can become Fair Trade certified. Some of the most common include:

  • Certain foods: Fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, sugar, honey, fruit juices, chocolate, wine, coffee, cocoa, tea, and other beverages.
  • Flowers: Fresh cut flowers, such as roses and lilies, and dried flowers, such as lavender and chamomile.
  • Handicrafts: Baskets, pottery, textiles, jewelry, and other handmade items.
  • Textiles: Clothing, bed linens, and other textiles made from Fair Trade cotton.

What’s the Difference Between Fairtrade and Fair Trade?

Fairtrade (one word) refers to products with the International Fairtrade certification mark used by Fairtrade International. On the other hand, Fair Trade (two words) refers to products that are ethically and sustainably produced. 

However, it's worth noting that while the terms Fairtrade and Fair Trade are sometimes used interchangeably, not all products labeled as Fair Trade are certified by a Fair Trade organization. Some companies may use the term ''Fair Trade'' to refer to non-Fair Trade certified products. To ascertain a product is certified, look for the Fairtrade mark on the item.    

What Are the 10 Principles of Fair Trade?

The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), a global network of Fair Trade organizations, outlines ten fundamental principles that guide Fair Trade practices. These principles are designed to promote fairness, sustainability, and community development in global supply chains. Here are the ten principles of Fair Trade.

1. Creating Opportunities for Economically Marginalized Producers

It aims to create economic opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers, particularly those in developing countries. It prioritizes working with producers who face social and economic challenges, such as small-scale cotton farmers, artisans, and workers in vulnerable communities.

2. Transparency and Accountability

It promotes transparency and accountability at all levels of the supply chain. It encourages open communication, fair negotiations, and information sharing between producers and buyers. Transparency ensures that all stakeholders have a clear understanding of the trading relationship.

3. Fair Trading Practices

This principle encompasses various social, economic, and environmental factors related to Fair Trade. It discourages unfair competition, exploitation, and abusive practices that disadvantage producers. It advocates for trust, cooperation, and respect among all stakeholders in the supply chain.

4. Fair Payment

This principle explores several issues related to fair remuneration, including:

  • Fair prices: Buyers and sellers should strike a fair deal based on transparent prices.  
  • Fair wages: Workers should receive an equitable, freely negotiated, and mutually agreed wage.
  • Local living wage: Remuneration should equate to a fair amount for a standard work week (no more than 48 hours). Living wages should allow workers to cover their basic needs, such as food, water, housing, education, transport, clothing, and healthcare.

5. Ensuring No Child Labor and Forced Labor

This principle prohibits child labor and forced labor. It adheres to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and local laws on child employment. 

6. Commitment to Non-Discrimination, Gender Equity and Women’s Economic Empowerment, and Freedom of Association

This principle strives to eliminate discrimination based on race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, political affiliation, and HIV/AIDS status. It emphasizes gender equity and women's economic empowerment and encourages women to take up leadership roles within Fair Trade organizations and producer communities.

7. Ensuring Good Working Conditions

This principle promotes safe and healthy workplace conditions for producers and workers. It advocates for eliminating hazardous practices, providing protective gear, and supporting workplace safety initiatives.

8. Providing Capacity Building

This principle advocates for the enhancement of the skills and capabilities of marginalized workers.

9. Promoting Fair Trade

This principle strives to raise awareness and understanding of Fair Trade principles among consumers, producers, and other stakeholders. It educates the public about the benefits of Fair Trade, fosters responsible consumer behavior, and promotes the demand for Fair Trade products.

10. Climate Action and Protection of the Environment

This principle embraces sustainable practices and promotes the responsible use of natural resources. It encourages environmentally friendly production methods, minimizes waste and pollution, and supports initiatives that preserve ecosystems and biodiversity.

What Is Fair Trade Fashion?

Fair Trade clothing embodies a shift from the conventional fast fashion business model, which often degrades the environment, exploits factory workers, and perpetuates a cycle of poverty.

Textile manufacturers that embrace Fair Trade provide their workers with safe and healthy working conditions and fair pay. They also strive to eliminate exploitative labor practices like child and forced labor.

Additionally, they also champion transparency in the supply chain. They provide visibility into their production processes, allowing consumers to trace the origins of their garments.

In a nutshell, Fair Trade fashion represents a conscious shift from unsustainable fashion practices. It advocates for transparency and social justice, allowing consumers and producers to create a positive difference.

What Are the Benefits of Buying Fair Trading Clothing?

Choosing to purchase Fair Trade textiles goes beyond simply adding stylish and ethically-made clothes to your wardrobe. It's a powerful way to contribute to positive change within the fashion industry and make a positive impact on the lives of producers, workers, and the environment. That said, here are its benefits.

Empowering Workers and Communities

Purchasing ethically and sustainably made clothing ensures that garment workers are paid fairly and work in safe conditions. By supporting conscious brands, consumers directly contribute to the empowerment of workers and help uplift communities, providing them with improved livelihoods and access to education, healthcare, and other essential resources.

Promoting Social Justice

Buying Fair Trade garments advocates for social justice issues such as gender inequality, discrimination, and exploitation. It promotes fair treatment, equal opportunities, and the protection of workers' rights, ensuring that they are treated with dignity and respect throughout the supply chain.

Supporting Sustainable Production

Fair Trade brands prioritize sustainable production practices, including using organic and natural materials, clean energy, and responsible waste management. By choosing Fair Trade, consumers support efforts to minimize the fashion industry's environmental impact and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Encouraging Transparency and Accountability

Brands that provide Fair Trade garments emphasize transparency, giving consumers visibility into their supply chains. This transparency allows consumers to make informed choices, understand the origin and production processes of their garments, and ensure ethical practices are followed throughout the journey.

Promoting Ethical Consumerism

Buying Fair Trade garments aligns with the values of ethical consumerism. It empowers consumers to use their purchasing power to support brands that prioritize fairness, sustainability, and social responsibility. By making conscious choices, consumers advocate for positive change in the fashion industry.

Cultivating Lasting Relationships

Fair Trade promotes long-term relationships between producers and buyers, fostering trust and collaboration. By buying sustainable clothing, consumers become part of a global community that values fair and respectful partnerships, working together to create a more equitable and sustainable future.

Quality and Unique Designs

Fair Trade garments often showcase exceptional craftsmanship, attention to detail, and unique designs. By exploring these garments, consumers discover beautifully made garments that reflect their personal style and carry a story of social and environmental responsibility.

Popular Fair Trade Clothing Brands

As the demand for ethically-made and sustainable fashion continues to grow, several Fair Trade fashion brands have emerged, offering conscientious consumers an array of stylish, high-quality, and socially responsible clothing options. 

These brands exemplify Fair Trade principles, prioritizing transparency, worker empowerment, and environmental sustainability. Here are some of the best ones to consider.

People Tree

People Tree is a Fair Trade fashion industry pioneer known for its stylish and sustainable organic cotton clothing. The brand works closely with talented artisans and cotton farmers in developing countries, promoting fair wages, worker well-being, and eco-friendly practices.

Patagonia

Patagonia was one of the pioneers of Fair Trade clothing, embracing Fair Trade clothes in 2014. Patagonia offers more Fair Trade Certified™ garments than any other apparel brand, and its Fair Trade program has impacted over 75,000 workers in 10 developing nations (Patagonia, n.d.).

EILEEN FISHER

EILEEN FISHER is a certified B corp fashion brand renowned for its timeless womenswear. It prioritizes Fair Trade, sustainability, and social consciousness. The brand uses responsibly sourced materials, low-impact dyes and supports Fair Trade practices throughout its supply chain. The brand also supports over 450 garment workers in Peru by providing them higher Fair Trade wages and building their capacity (Jean, 2022).

Conscious Step

Conscious Step is a fashion brand that strives to provide ethically and sustainably made clothing. They source entirely Fairtrade and organic cotton and support community projects in India (Fairtrade America, 2022).

Pact

Pact is a certified B corp organic clothing brand that prioritizes sustainable production practices and works with Fair Trade certified factories that respect workers' rights and provide fair wages.

How to Choose a Fair Trade Clothing Brand

The emergence of Fair Trade clothing has resulted in the proliferation of Fair Trade clothing brands. While there are several brands to choose from, here are some key considerations to keep in mind when choosing a Fair Trade clothing brand.

Look for Certifications

Check for certifications such as Fairtrade or those endorsed by Fair Trade organizations like the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO). These certifications ensure that the brand or product has met specific Fair Trade standards and undergone independent verification.

Research the Brand's Values and Practices

Visit the brand's website, read about its mission and values, and look for information on its production practices, wage structure and labor practices. Look for brands that prioritize ethical sourcing, humane conditions, and environmental sustainability.

Transparent Supply Chains

Look for brands that provide transparency in their supply chains. They should be open about their sourcing practices, manufacturing processes, and the locations where their garments are produced. Transparent brands often share stories and information about the artisans, farmers, or workers involved in the production, allowing consumers to connect with the people behind your clothes.

Organic and Sustainable Materials

Consider brands that use organic and sustainable materials. Natural fibers, such as certified organic cotton, hemp or linen, are grown without harmful pesticides and chemicals, promoting soil health and reducing environmental impact. Additionally, look for brands that prioritize low-impact production methods.

Longevity and Quality

Fair Trade clothing brands often prioritize quality craftsmanship and durability. Choose clothes that are well-made and designed to last, reducing the need for frequent replacements. Higher-quality apparel not only minimizes environmental impact but also ensures a more sustainable wardrobe.

Customer Reviews and Testimonials

Read customer reviews and testimonials about the brand or specific products. Positive reviews and testimonials can provide insights into the quality, fit, and overall satisfaction of previous customers. Additionally, seek feedback regarding the brand's commitment to Fair Trade practices and their impact on workers and communities.

Support Artisan and Community Projects

Some Fair Trade brands collaborate with artisans and workers in the communities where they're located. Look for brands that support initiatives such as skill development, education, healthcare, or infrastructure improvements within the communities where their products are made. Supporting these brands contributes to positive community development.

FAQs

Why did Fairtrade start?

Fairtrade began as a response to the social and economic injustices faced by small-scale farmers in emergent nations. The initiative emerged from the efforts of various individuals and organizations seeking to address the imbalances and exploitative practices within global trade.

While Fairtrade initially started to support handicraft producers, it later expanded to support producers of other commodities like coffee, tea, cocoa, nuts, spices, and flowers. 

Who owns Fairtrade?

Fairtrade International is a non-profit organization based in Bonn, Germany. It isn't owned by any individual or private entity. It is a global movement and certification system that operates as a membership organization, bringing together various stakeholders, including producers, traders, and national Fairtrade organizations, to shape the policies and standards of the Fairtrade system.

However, while Fairtrade isn't 100% owned by any individual or entity, workers and farmers hold 50% of voting rights and govern the organization in partnership with a Board of Directors.

Who benefits from Fairtrade?

Fairtrade benefits various stakeholders across the global textile industry, including consumers, workers, communities, and the environment.

Fairtrade benefits workers by promoting humane conditions, decent wages and eliminating child and forced labor. It also encourages communities where workers reside by improving residents' living standards and building their capacity. 

Additionally, Fairtrade benefits consumers by enabling them to purchase high-quality products that are produced sustainably.

Finally, Fairtrade benefits the environment by encouraging sustainable production practices and responsible use of natural resources.

Why is Fairtrade more expensive?

Fairtrade products like Fair Trade garments are often more expensive than fast fashion clothes because they are generally produced on a smaller scale. Smaller producers typically face higher production costs due to lower volumes, limited access to resources, and less bargaining power in the market.

Additionally, Fairtrade producers must meet specific criteria regarding worker wages, safe working conditions, environmental sustainability, and community development. These standards may require investment in training, infrastructure, certifications, and other measures that add to the overall cost of production.

However, Fairtrade products aren't always more costly. Unlike non-Fair Trade companies, Fairtrade brands work directly with artisans, eliminating middlemen, sometimes resulting in a more affordable price.

Can Fairtrade be trusted?

The Fairtrade certification is a trusted and recognized symbol of Fair Trade practices. The Fairtrade system operates with transparency, accountability, and independent verification processes to ensure the credibility and integrity of the certification.

How many countries support Fairtrade?

Fairtrade is a global system that's supported in 71 countries. The system operates in producer countries, where Fairtrade-certified products are grown or made, and consumer countries, where Fairtrade products are sold.

Conclusion

As consumers become more conscious of their choices, the demand for sustainable and ethical fashion options has grown. Fair Trade certification promotes fairness, transparency, and sustainability throughout the supply chain, positively impacting the lives of producers, workers, and the environment.

By embracing Fair Trade clothing, consumers can make a difference—one garment at a time—creating a fashion industry that is not only stylish but also fair, transparent, and sustainable.

References

PwC. (n.d.). Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey June 2023: Sharpening the pre-purchase consumer experience. PwC. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/consumer-markets/consumer-insights-survey.html

Fair Trade CertifiedTM - Patagonia. (n.d.). https://www.patagonia.com/our-footprint/fair-trade.html

Jean, S. (2022, March 22). Love, Peru. Our Fair Trade Project. EILEEN FISHER. https://www.eileenfisher.com/circular-by-design/journal/community/our-fair-trade-project.html

Fairtrade America. (2022, February 9). Conscious Step – Fairtrade America. https://www.fairtradeamerica.org/why-fairtrade/global-impact/impact-stories/cs/

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Alyciah Beavers

Committed to promoting sustainability and am pleased to have the opportunity to share my enthusiasm with you.

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