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Myth: Fair Trade USA Certified means equal wages, ethical farming practices and fair prices

Buyers Beware! If this is the logo you choose, you might want to reconsider.

TRUTH:  Fair Trade USA (see left for logo, formerly TransFair USA), made a name for itself a decade ago by focusing on coffee but has slowly and steadily lowered their standards of what it means to trade fairly.

First, let me highlight an important distinctions between ‘fair trade’ and ‘Fair Trade USA’: ‘fair trade’ is a phrase that refers to a variety of ethical business practices and sets a higher-than-average market prices for certain items but ensures fair compensation for producers.  The term does not refer to one entity or overseeing organization; instead, many non-profits (such as ‘Fair Trade USA’, argubly the most popular Fair Trade organization) certify products as ‘fair trade’ in accordance with standards set forth by Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO), the gold standard of fair trade certification.

Whew.  You might have to read that paragraph twice.  So, recently Fair Trade USA has lowered their standards (and no longer adheres to the higher FLO standards), but I want to start off by giving them some credit.  They (almost single-handedly) raised awareness about sustainability and international ethical consumerism across the United States.  Their initial efforts such as focusing on small farmers was a very noble effort in a time when there weren’t any organizations ensuring good practices.

The problem is that over the years, Fair Trade USA has lowered their standards, failed to update their model, and has been unable to ensure a minimum quality of their products.  What started as an initiative to pay above market prices in order to meet labor, environmental, and production standards and promote social justice hasn’t actually improved poverty for coffee growers (or any growers of other crops covered under Fair Trade USA’s policies).

Any positive impact resulting from their efforts is debatable.  There are also small farmers who want to participate in Fair Trade USA but are unable to because they don’t own land or belong to a cooperative (a requirement for certification).  Yet, some large corporations like Dole and Nestle have been admitted under Fair Trade USA’s loose guidelines.

BOTTOM LINE: Fair Trade USA’s business is not always transparent and they’re withdrawing from the Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO) International because their new, lowered standards are non-compliant with certification criteria.

There are however, some reputable fair traders’ still out there.  If you want to support authentic fair trade, check out the World Fair Trade Organization or look for this logo:


  1. An in-depth look by Stanford Researchers
  2. The World Fair Trade Organization

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2 Comments to "Myth: Fair Trade USA Certified means equal wages, ethical farming practices and fair prices"

  1. johnny says:

    this post was great. seriously. she is super food blogger.

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