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This is What Fair Trade Certified Really Means

Knowing what terms mean and whether any company can assert that their products reflect certain values, or if there’s a relevant certification process, can help you make informed purchasing decisions. Into this setting walks Fair Trade Certified. If you really think about it, there are probably several words found on product packaging whose meanings you’re not exactly sure of. Sure, we have a general idea of the meanings of terms like “organic,” “ethically sourced,” and “sustainable,” and recognize that these are positive values. The specifics and the process behind achieving the right to claim those product values, though, are often a bit of a mystery.

fair trade coffee shop sign.

One of the more important terms to understand is fair trade certified. You may have seen it printed on packages of coffee beans at your favorite specialty coffee shop, or stamped on a chocolate bar, a box of tea, or a grooming product. But what is fair trade? What does fair trade certification mean? What types of products can be fair trade certified? Keep reading to find out.

What Is Fair Trade?

Fair trade is an international movement or way to conduct business that aims to alleviate poverty, create equity in the global trading market, and promote social and economic opportunities for marginalized producers, farmers, and craftspeople around the world. Fair trade helps ensure workers and producers are paid fair wages and fair prices, work in safe environments and under safe conditions, protect the environment during production, and receive funds to develop their communities.

What Does Fair Trade Certified Mean?

Fair Trade USA is the official regulating body behind the fair trade certification process. Earning the Fair Trade Certified seal denotes that at least one ingredient in the product was produced and traded in accordance with standards set forth by Fair Trade USA. It’s important to note that there are several different variations of the seal, each indicating different parts of the product that are Fair Trade Certified. For example, the entire product might be Fair Trade Certified, or only one ingredient found within. Additionally, there’s a Fair Trade Certified seal for products made in a Fair Trade Certified facility.

For a business to use the Fair Trade Certified seal without a disclaimer, the entire product (100% of the ingredients) must be certified. Therefore, this scenario most often occurs with single-ingredient products like tea, coffee, or bananas.

Food products can use the Fair Trade Certified seal along with a specific ingredient or just the word “ingredient” if at least 20% of the ingredients by weight in the product are Fair Trade Certified. For example, in a trail mix, if all the nuts are Fair Trade Certified and total 50% of the weight of the assembled trail mix, the product could use the Fair Trade Certified seal with a note saying “Made with Fair Trade Certified ingredients.” However, if less than 20% of the ingredients by weight are Fair Trade Certified, the seal cannot be used. That said, the Fair Trade Certified ingredients can be called out on the front of the package.

How Do Products Become Fair Trade Certified?

The process to earn the Fair Trade Certified seal is rather rigorous and involves an application process with demonstrated adherence to the extensive fair trade standards for that type of product established by Fair Trade USA.

The fair trade standards for businesses include requirements around workers’ rights, fair labor practices, environmentally friendly land and resource management, and community development, and are designed to yield income sustainability, community and individual well-being, empowerment, and environmental stewardship.

What Types of Products Can Be Fair Trade Certified?

banana with a fair trade sticker.

Though it certainly seems like it would be great if all products in every type of industry would need to earn Fair Trade Certification before they could hit the market, this is still far from reality. To date, only certain types of products are eligible to be Fair Trade Certified should they meet the required standards. Currently, the following types of products can be Fair Trade Certified by Fair Trade USA:

  • Certain Foods: Chocolate, coffee, beans and grains, condiments, honey, fruits and vegetables, seafood, sugar, tea, nuts, oils, seeds, processed foods herbs and spices, wines, and spirits
  • Flowers and Plants
  • Clothing and Textiles
  • Certain Home Goods: Furniture, rugs, bedding, and bath products
  • Cleaning Products
  • Beauty Products: Skincare, makeup, supplements, soap, body care products
  • Sports Balls

For more information, read all about the Fair Trade Certified products available worldwide.

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Amber Sayer
Amber Sayer is a fitness, nutrition, and wellness writer and editor, and was previously a Fitness Editor at Byrdie. She…
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