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Fair Trade Certification is a market-based model of international trade that benefits over one million farmers and farm workers in 58 developing countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Fair Trade certification enables consumers to vote for a better world with their dollars, simply by looking for the Fair Trade Certified label on the products they buy.  

Fair Trade Certified agricultural products including coffee, tea and herbs, cocoa and chocolate, fresh fruit, sugar, rice, and spices (vanilla) are currently available at over 35,000 retail establishments in the U.S.  

Fair Trade empowers farmers and farm workers to lift themselves out of poverty by developing the business skills necessary to compete in the global marketplace. By guaranteeing minimum floor prices and social premiums, Fair Trade enables producers to invest in their farms and communities and protect the environment. But Fair Trade is much more than a fair price.  

Fair Trade principles include:

Fair prices: Democratically organized farmer groups receive a guaranteed minimum floor price and an additional premium for certified organic products. Farmer organizations are also eligible for pre-harvest credit. 

Fair labor conditions: Workers on Fair Trade farms enjoy freedom of association, safe working conditions, and living wages. Forced child labor is strictly prohibited. 

Direct trade: Importers purchase from Fair Trade producer groups as directly as possible, eliminating unnecessary middlemen and empowering farmers to strengthen their organizations and become competitive players in the global economy.  

Democratic and transparent organizations: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers decide democratically how to use their Fair Trade revenues.  

Community development: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers invest Fair Trade premiums in social and business development projects like scholarship programs, quality improvement trainings, and organic certification.  

Environmental sustainability: The Fair Trade certification system strictly prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), promotes integrated farm management systems that improve soil fertility, and limits the use of harmful agrochemicals in favor of environmentally sustainable farming methods that protect farmers' health and preserve valuable ecosystems for future generations.             

How Does Fair Trade Certification Help Farmers?

Fair Trade certification is not a handout. It helps farmers understand and access international markets and bootstrap their way out of poverty. By cutting out middlemen and brokers, Fair Trade gets growers their fair share of the final market value of their products. 

The principle Fair Trade criteria for coffee are: 

1. Guaranteed floor price or income paid directly to the producer; Photo courtesy of CECOCAFEN

2. Fair labor conditions for all people working on the farms;

3. Freedom of association for farmers and workers, and democratic decision-making processes;

4. Environmental standards that restrict use of agrochemicals and foster sustainability;

5. For cooperatives, pre-harvest lines of credit. At these co-ops, income from Fair Trade funds schools and basic medical care for families. It provides opportunities for economic independence and community involvement for women. Cooperatives enable farmers to achieve economies of scale, and they invest a portion of their Fair Trade earnings in community development, coffee quality improvements, and training in organic farming techniques. 

How Does Fair Trade Help the Environment? 

Fair Trade farmers protect the land and wildlife habitat by intercropping plant species and maintaining strict waste management control. Fair Trade farmers abide by rigorous environmental standards that prohibit use of the most harmful chemical pesticides and encourage integrated pest management. Fair Trade supports the small farmers’ tradition of environmental stewardship by generating resources for co-ops to provide technical assistance, training, and organic certification to their members. 

The higher Fair Trade minimum price for organic coffee ($1.41 per pound) provides a strong financial incentive to capture opportunities in the organic market and commit to certified organic production. Fair Trade organic, shade-grown coffee is the gold standard of sustainable agriculture, reflecting farmer and industry compliance with much higher standards of social and environmental responsibility than those of other labels. More than 85% of Fair Trade Coffee sold in the U.S. is Certified Organic.

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