New to fair trade? Here’s an introduction …

January 6, 2010

Many products that we use every day come from farmers or handicrafts artisans in our own backyard. But the people who produce these products often can’t access markets directly, forcing them to sell on terms that don’t allow them to make ends meet or to invest in environmentally sustainable production. While recent economic growth in India is benefiting many, there are millions of farmers and artisans who are being left out. Behind the products they produce – cotton, fruit, tea, coffee, and handicrafts to name a few – there is often a trail of missed opportunity, economic hardship, and environmental mismanagement.

Fair trade is a globally recognized approach to business that aims to ensure that these farmers and artisans get a fair deal. Building on successful models in other countries, Shop for Change Fair Trade has developed a set of social and environmental standards to help ensure equal opportunity, healthy and safe working conditions, fair wages, environmentally friendly farm production, better business relationships, and much more. When products are produced and traded according to these standards, companies may display the Shop for Change Fair Trade certification label on their products. By voting with their wallets, consumers can send a message to companies that the market rewards businesses that commit to equal opportunity for producers and environmental stewardship.

A little history

The international fair trade movement began in the 1940’s when US and European churches began selling handicrafts made by European refugees after World War II. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Alternative Trading Organisations (ATOs) and “World Shops” began to offer an alternative to conventional trade by offering higher returns to producers in the ‘developing world’ through direct trade and fair prices.

 Today, many ATOs are members of The World Fair Trade Organization (formerly IFAT), an association of fair trade wholesalers, retailers, and producers whose members are committed to providing fair wages and employment opportunities to economically-disadvantaged artisans and farmers worldwide.

Fair trade certification of agricultural commodities began in The Netherlands in 1988 in response to plummeting prices in the world coffee market. Through certification of “fair trade” business practices, fair trade certifiers aimed to infuse conventional supply chains with fair trade principles. Today, several Western countries have their own certification organisations that work under the umbrella of the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations. Fair trade has grown tremendously around the world – in 2008, consumers spent an estimated US $4.1 billion on fair trade certified products globally.

Building a fair trade movement in India

Over the past 40 years, many organisations have exported fair trade products from India to Western markets. Fair Trade Forum India, among other groups, has served as an important national network for these efforts. In recent years, trends in India point to exciting new opportunities for producers to market their fair trade products to consumers right here in India. Looking to help farmers and artisans seize this opportunity, Shop for Change brought fair trade certification to India so Indian consumers can now easily seek out and choose to buy fair trade. Our first certified products, available soon, will be cotton garments, linens, and home furnishings.


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