Fair Trade Products: Why Consumers Should Make Informed Choices (Updated 2020)
The phrase “Fair Trade” is thrown around too loosely. Most consumers assume that it’s a label slapped on to a box and you can call it a day. But there’s so much more to Fair Trade than the stamp of approval. It’s making sure that producers are rightly compensated for by consumers, but that’s in the large scale of things when everything has come full circle.
There are certain principles that Fair Trade upholds, and one of them is respect for the environment. This is exactly what Rainforest Bowls is all about as we strive to save the environment in everything we do. We help plant trees via OneTreePlanted and plan to aid in the reforestation efforts of Vietnam. Plus, Rainforest Bowls makes sure that we give back to the producers, farmers, and artisans that produce our coconut bowls through our sustainability efforts.
Support our local producers by purchasing eco-friendly and sustainable products by Rainforest Bowls.
Read on to learn more about Fair Trade and what you can do to become a responsible consumer.
A Brief History of Fair Trade
What is fair trade and when did it start?
Fair Trade anchored its roots in the United States when Self Help Crafts, now known as Ten Thousand Villages, started purchasing embroidery work from Puerto Rico in 1946, and SERRV International traded with impoverished communities of the South in the late 40s. The first official fair trade shop opened in the States selling these items.
In Europe, the humble beginnings of fair trade date back to the 50s in the United Kingdom when they sold crafts to Chinese immigrants in Oxfam shops. Between 1964 and 1967, the UK and the Netherlands performed parallel initiatives to establish the "Fair Trade Original."
During this timeline, Dutch organizations sold sugar with the tagline "by buying cane sugar you give people in poor countries a place in the sun of prosperity." They then proceeded to sell handicrafts sourced from the South and eventually opened the first "Third World Shop."
World Shops or Fair Trade shops are used interchangeably in different regions of the world. They play a significant role in the Fair Trade Movement and continue to be proactive in raising awareness for compensating communities from which their products are sourced.
Today, Fair Trade is a global movement. There are over one million micro-level producers that are supported by this act and 3,000 organizations and their umbrella structures in the 70 countries of the South. These products are put on the market of world shops, groceries, and e-commerce worldwide.
Fair Trade is becoming more successful because it makes mainstream businesses more socially and environmentally conscious.
Explaining Fair Trade
What does fair trade mean?
The decisions we make have a significant impact on the environment and artisans that produce items under Fair Trade as it improves the living conditions of families in developing countries.
Take coffee, for example, one of the most highly sought after agricultural products on the market. It's a long process before coffee makes it to our supermarket shelves. Coffee processing is hard work for farmers, but a large percentage of these farmers don't earn much from it. Some of the common reasons behind these are lack of knowledge on product pricing, a lack of influence in the global market, and unstable yield.
Many coffee farmers are then powerless in the face of the free market. However, Fair Trade seeks to change this. Fair Trade farmers work with cooperatives organized democratically.
There are two main advantages to this system, namely:
- Transparency in pricing systems. This makes it much easier for the farmers and producers to negotiate prices with businesses to which they make transactions and;
- Access to credit and information exchange with other farmers. Farmers learn from each other and have access to pricing strategies for competitive export rates.
Central components of Fair Trade
- Fair Trade minimum price. This refers to the minimum that farmers are paid when selling their products through fair trade.
- Fair Trade premium. This is paid to organizers who then distribute it to the farmers and workers. They are at liberty to decide on how to use the premium and where it goes. Oftentimes it is used for the betterment of the community like for the construction of hospitals, schools, and/or relief centers. Other times, it is utilized for improving their trade by buying better farming materials and machinery. Some farmers even take the initiative to invest in switching to organic farming as it is in line with the environmental beliefs of the Fair Trade system.
From a humanitarian standpoint, the Fair Trade System is the best way to provide a stable income for producers and their families. At the same time, it limits the risk of exploiting children for child labor.
As for the environmental aspect, Fair Trade practices advocate the preservation of natural resources, which are key components of the farmers' trade. The use of GMOs is forbidden, water usage is reduced to the minimum, and sustainable water management is promoted.
The 10 Principles of Fair Trade
The fair trade principles are requirements that producers and businesses that buy their goods must follow. These principles are developed by Fair Trade International in consultation with the producers, distributors, and all members of the Fair Trade System.
Principle 1: Creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers - This principle guides all members of the Fair Trade system in helping small producers move from poverty to self-sufficiency.
We at Rainforest Bowls practice this principle by working with rural farmers and helping them monetize a product that's often discarded from their yield: the coconut shells.
Principle 2: Transparency and accountability - Being aware and accountable for every link in a business's supply chain. No farmer, producer, and artisan is unaccounted for.
Principle 3: Fair trading practices - Building long term relationships, so the positive impact of fair trade will grow over time. We recognize, promote, and protect the cultural identity and traditional skills of a business and its producers.
Principle 4: Payment of a fair price - Fair Trade gives credit where credit is due. This act ensures that producers are justly compensated for their labor. Rainforest Bowls ethically sourced its coconut shells from Vietnam. Aside from its environmental implications, we do our part in paying the producers what is due for them to lead financially independent lives.
Principle 5: Ensuring no child labor and forced labor - Fair Trade prohibits child labor. Instead, it promotes working in countries and with products known to have a high risk of using child labor, like cocoa and cotton production, to protect the youth while upholding all its other goals and principles. Some members of Fair Trade also give back to the community by sending children to school via the fair trade premium.
Principle 6: Commitment to non-discrimination, gender equity, and women’s economic empowerment and freedom of association - Fair Trade does not discriminate against gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and race. Everyone has the right to work and the right to receive benefits. It empowers women to become financially stable on their own and to provide for their families.
Principle 7: Ensuring good working conditions - The principles of Fair Trade respect and value its producers. Businesses are encouraged to ensure the safety and health of their suppliers. Abusive treatment towards suppliers is punishable by fair trade law, and violation of this principle will result in the revocation of their fair trade licenses and certifications.
Principle 8: Providing capacity building - Fairtrade capitalizes on developing the skills and capabilities of businesses and employees. Also, it provides support to producers to improve their management skills, better their production capability, and give them access to new markets.
Principle 9: Promoting fair trade - This encourages all businesses to abide by the standards of fair trade and to nudge third party corporations to do the same.
Principle 10: Respect for the environment - The environment is a significant factor in the principles of Fairtrade. Businesses are required to actively encourage better environmental practices and the application of sustainable production.
Fair Trade and Consumerism
How does supporting fair trade help consumers? Every purchase matters. We as a society need to be more mindful of what we purchase. So much of what we buy from the groceries we don’t put any thought into.
What if one box of chocolate sent a child to school in Africa? Or what if 10 coconut bowls were enough to propel the reforestation efforts in Vietnam? Would you be more mindful of your shopping list then?
Consumers are end users; we don’t blame anyone for just picking their favorite cereal up at the supermarket. But, as end users, we have to realize that paying for the product is the easy part. We have the social responsibility of giving back to the consumers who made it possible for us to enjoy their products.
When you purchase from a company that embraces Fair Trade principles, you make the proactive choice of selecting quality products, improving the quality of life for producers, and protection of the environment. Every choice you make is a step closer to creating a fair world for farmers, artisans, producers, and consumers.
Your choice ensures that producers get a fair deal and that their communities are developed through your small contribution. You grow their local economy and make it possible for them to lead healthy and productive lives.
Anything that requires the use of raw material can fall under Fair Trade. Rainforest Bowls abides by the principles of Fair Trade such as environmental sustainability and just compensation for our suppliers.
If you’re interested, you can check out our products here.
Fair Trade Certification
Who can apply for a Fair Trade Certification? Traders, brand owners, and retailers or distributors. When you think about it, almost all businesses can apply for Fair Trade Certification. Particularly brick and mortar ones.
It’s sad to say that many companies claim to have Fair Trade certification when in fact they have none. So it’s more of a ‘Fake Trade Certification.’ It’s a four-step process to get certification but the Fair Trade Commission has such a high standard that it filters out the businesses that do not abide by its principles. It’s important that businesses apply for and attain a Fairtrade certification because it helps the consumers make an informed decision on what they’re purchasing.
From the consumers’ end, it helps to do a bit of research before you purchase a new product. Check if the company you're considering to buy from is Fair Trade certified or if it's brand story stands for something you also believe in.
Fair Trade products are readily available worldwide. They’re in your supermarket, local shops, and even online. Also, just because a product isn’t Fair Trade certified doesn’t mean that they don’t abide by ethical practices. Sometimes, a brand cannot afford to apply for certifications but they do their part by upholding the guidelines of Fair Trade.
Playing Our Part
As mentioned earlier, Rainforest Bowls does its part to participate in Fair Trade. We reclaim coconut shells, support the amazing craftspeople of Vietnam, and contribute to reforestation efforts. For every 10 bowls we sell, we will plant a tree via One Tree Planted. We can guarantee that our coconut bowls are 100% authentic. No fake coconut shells or bamboo were harmed in the making of this product.
And of course, you can’t serve a meal without utensils! Aside from our eco-friendly coconut bowls, you can check out our Wooden Kitchen Set and Bamboo Straws for the ultimate natural living experience.
Fair Trade isn’t just about purchasing products but using them for a cleaner and greener world. We may take plastic straws and utensils for granted when we eat out, but they’ve done significant damage to our environment over the years.
Studies have shown that the first pieces of manufactured plastic still haunt our Earth today. By taking your bamboo straws to restaurants and coffee shops, you are significantly cutting down on your plastic use every single day. When their time has come and it’s time to throw them away, they return to the earth.
We care about our suppliers, and we care about how our products affect the environment. By sourcing reclaimed coconut shells, we do our part in making sure that our products age well. When you choose to use products that abide by Fair Trade, you’re on your way to living sustainably.
Your efforts may seem small, but the impact is large. Fair Trade creates a ripple effect among consumers. Make Fair Trade a trend in your community and encourage people to make more informed choices.
Remember how we talked about coming full circle? It’s the consumers that dictate the success of Fair Trade. Slowly but surely, your choices will encourage the market to rethink its structure and require its systems, from sourcing raw materials to bringing the finished goods to consumers, to apply the principles of Fair Trade.
Let’s do our part in supporting Fair Trade. Check out our eco-friendly collection to support our local producers and make this world a greener and more sustainable place!