Fact vs. Fiction: The Truth About Fair Trade

My local coffee shop sells Fair Trade coffee. I love their coffee, but for a long time never gave much consideration to what that really meant. I knew it was “good,” but I wasn’t sure why.

Fair Trade is a term we often hear thrown around when it comes to coffee, tea, produce, and even diamonds. What does it mean, though, and how much difference does buying Fair Trade food and products really make?

Products that are Fair Trade Certified meet specific labor, environmental, and developmental standards. The certification system covers a number of products, and the list continues to grow. Fruit, cotton, vegetables, and wine are a few main ones, with coffee and tea leading the pack in Fair Trade Certification. Certifying precious gems is being looked at closely, preceded by companies specializing in conflict-free diamonds, such as Brilliant Earth.

Fair Trade has been in the works for quite some time, but a major breakthrough happened in 2001, when USA Today ran an article on Fair Trade Certified coffee and TransFair USA launched FTC (Fair Trade Certified) tea. These actions highlighted poverty in the coffee industry and consumers took note.

Fair Trade standards enable a democratic decision-making system so that each community, such as small farmers’ organizations, can determine how their funds are used. This improves the quality of life for the individuals involved in each unique community. An especially important aspect of Fair Trade is that monies are specifically designated for social, economic, and environmental development projects. Employees must receive minimum wages and child labor is not allowed. Health and safety requirements must also be met.

Products that are Fair Trade aren’t necessarily organic, although they often are. However, FTC products are also non-GMO (not genetically modified).

Since a clean and healthy working environment improves living and working conditions for farmers and workers, environmental standards are important. Guidelines are in place to protect water resources, promote agricultural diversification, restrict the use of pesticides and fertilizers, ban use of GMOs, and require waste, water, and energy to be properly managed.

Fair Trade Certified products can sometimes cost more than conventional products, but not always.

While products like coffee and chocolate might be priced competitively with other coffee or chocolates, something like bananas might cost more than conventional bananas because small cooperatives often incur higher costs to bring their products to market.

Clothing and cotton are new additions to Fair Trade Certification. This will directly impact the farmers who grow the cotton and the workers who sew the garments. This means our purchases do matter.

Wondering where to start? Support your own community by finding a local coffee shop that sells Fair Trade coffee and tea. Research your favorite brands to see if their clothes are made in a sustainable way under Fair Trade guidelines. Consciously consider your food purchases and read your labels. This is especially important considering the defeat of Prop 37.

Here’s some links to get you started:

What are your favorite Fair Trade companies? Does this labeling make a difference in what you purchase?

Share your comments below!

Photo credit: Selma90, Johanna Goodyear

Monique Minahan is a writer, yogi, and lover of life. She’s inspired by nature’s simplicity and the healing power of love. She finds true liberation in living life fully from the inside out. Her intention is to offer her heart to the world through words that motivate, inspire, and encourage. You can visit her at her blog, mindfulmo.com

Read more by Intent here.

Follow Intent on Twitter: @intentdotcom

By Monique Minahan

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Christina B.
Christina B.1 years ago

I tend to favor cosmetics that use Fair Trade ingredients, such as the ones form The Body Shop.

Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla2 years ago


Jacqueline Fonseca

Always make sure to check the parent companies! I buy Fair Trade Clothes (my sundresses) from Greater Good Network, and make sure my coffee is Fair Trade and Organic.... My boyfriend and I buy our bananas Fair Trade, too.... It does make a difference how my purchase power has direct cause on someone else in the world....

Richard T.
Richard T.2 years ago


Aaron B.
Aaron Bouchard2 years ago


Christine Stewart

I try to buy fair trade when I can- especially chocolate and coffee- it really doesn't cost that much more to ensure a better wage for very hard-working, impoverished people!

Jordan S.
Jessica W.2 years ago

Tara is right... Don't buy Honest tea. Beware of misleading products like Odwalla and Naked juice because yes, they are owned by Pepsi Co & Coca Cola...

Kathleen A.
Kathleen Arnold2 years ago

I like the idea of Fair Trade coffee, so I just checked out Jumping Goat Coffee. I need some anyway, so I ordered some. Thanks for the article and the links!

Ala M.
Ala Morales2 years ago

Thanks to Fair Trade that the growers have now quality life and the environment is now protected.
Also we are getting quality products.

Marie W.
Marie W.2 years ago

Sad we need this labeling.