Fair trade is awesome. No, not the kind Trump talks about where trade deficits are bad and trade wars are awesome. What I and other hipsters who use the term fair trade mean is a product produced in a way deemed ethical and…well, fair. There are various fair trade certificates and organizations all differing slightly on what their standard of “fair” is. This is why using those stamps of approval are useful but it’s also worth thinking about your own ethical standard. What I define as fair might be a little different than you but for the most part fair trade for everyone refers to fair wages for those involved in the making of said product, fair working conditions, sustainable practices (does the product create a lot of waste and/or have an unjustified effect on the environment) and were animals abused in the making of the product. Seems pretty simple but there are many companies that don’t meet this standard, only meet it halfway, or don’t have the same definition of fair that I do. Below is how I personally, define each of these standards.
The makers of the product are paid a fair wage.
The makers of the product are paid according to the value they add to the company. This will vary country to country and it doesn’t necessarily mean they must be paid more than minimum wage. I don’t think minimum wage for a fast food cook is unfair but I do think minimum wage for a fast food manager is unfair. Perhaps you disagree with this standard but that’s the cool thing about a free market, you can buy according to your values and I to mine. Any product that’s made in America meets this standard for me. I believe America is a free enough place that employees are generally paid what they are worth and have the option to find better work if they believe they are treated unfairly. There are resources to learn more about fair wages around the world and you can find them here.
The makers of the product work in decent conditions.
What I mean by this is that no one is forced to work extreme hours at threat of losing their job if they refuse. Workers are also in air conditioned facilities or heated facilities if necessary. And this should go without saying but workers are not physically punished for messing up something on the job.
I also avoid products with chemicals in them in order to meet this standard. Even in the U.S. employees work with chemicals without even realizing the damage they are causing to themselves until years later. I also avoid meat products, especially from factory farms because of the negative effects breathing in all the fumes and dealing with animal waste can have. Check out this link for more info on the negative effects of factory farms on employees. Any product involving chemicals often have adverse effects on workers. Perhaps the best example of this is pesticides and farm workers. You can read more on that here. Chemical free and BPA free are things I look out for when buying stuff.
This one was a huge reason why I gave up meat. As more and more people around the world adopt the American diet or westernized diet rather, we will need more and more land to raise the animals. There simply isn’t enough land on Earth to feed 7 billion people a animal centered diet. There also isn’t a good way to get rid of all the waste these animals create. You can read more about the sustainability of an animal based diet here.
When it comes to non-food products I am really not too picky. They don’t have to be green certified but I don’t want them dumping waste in rivers. In fact, a lot of companies will forgo the vegan/green/fair trade stamps because those usually cost money to apply for and they don’t want to transfer the cost to their customers which I totally get and appreciate. So don’t disregard a product simply because it doesn’t have the stamp you are accustomed to seeing.
It’s also a plus when the materials used to make the product are biodegradable, reusable etc. I try to avoid plastic when I can
Companies will always brag about this so it’s usually not hard to figure out. I am not against using rats in lab tests per say but animal testing can get out of control pretty quick. PETA gets a lot of shit, most of which they deserve, but when it comes to animal testing they make a strong case.
*With all these guidelines you have to be careful. Often companies will claim to be fair trade or green or cruelty free etc. because those who put the product together meet all these guidelines. Sometimes the people sewing the shoes together are treated well but the people who cultivate the shoe materials aren’t. Just something to keep in mind.
I started focusing on more ethical shopping funny enough, because of my capitalistic values. The trade part of fair trade actually drew me in just as much as the fair part. I realized I alone was responsible for the consequences of my actions and that through a free market system I could tell companies what was and wasn’t acceptable with every dollar I spent. Your value system might not be the same as mine, but I still encourage you to shop along your moral compass. People often tell me they feel helpless when they shouldn’t. The organic product market is expected to grow 14% from 2017 to 2021, from 2004 to 2016 Fairtrade International product revenue grew roughly 835%, sales of plant based food went up 8.1% last year and continues to grow, the natural (chemical free) beauty industry is seeing sales increase every year with growth at 7% outpacing overall industry growth and Jessica Alba famously became a billionaire almost overnight after starting The Honest Company.
This growth isn’t because companies just felt like it, it’s because their customers demanded it. A lot of my fellow naturalists claim to hate capitalism, but it’s the fuel creating massive change across all industries. You say something every time you buy something and businesses are listening. Compassionate capitalism isn’t a real economic term, but if it were, I suppose it would look like shopping fair trade.