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Natural Awakenings Oklahoma

Purposeful Shopping: How Fair Trade Can Change the World

Bananas, chocolate bars, coffee beans, herbs, spices next to chalkboard sign reading Fair Trade

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Fair trade is an alternative international business model that puts people and the planet first. It is designed to help growers and producers in developing countries achieve sustainable, fair relationships with exporters and consumers in wealthier parts of the globe. It focuses particularly on commodities like coffee, tea, textiles and seafood, and works to ensure sustainable prices, better working conditions and higher environmental standards.

According to the Fair World Project, “The fair trade movement shares a vision of a world in which justice and sustainable development are at the heart of trade structures and practices both at home and abroad, so that everyone through their work can maintain a decent and dignified livelihood.”

At least five fair trade organizations certify compliance. While the criteria of each varies, certification typically requires companies to allow a third party to audit their business practices and monitor production to ensure standards are met.

Fair trade goods can cost slightly or significantly more than conventionally traded purchases, which may explain why ethical and fair trade products make up only 1 percent of the total market. But the trend is growing: In 2018, sales of fair trade produce in the U.S. rose by 30 percent, with 60 products available. International sales of a major German-based certifier, Fairtrade International, increased almost 10-fold between 2004 and 2016, from $939 million to $8.9 billion.

Consider these steps to achieve ethical, sustainable shopping:

Protect the rights of produce workers. Fair trade bananas, avocados, coconut products and cashews often come from small growers in Africa, Latin America and Asia, where cooperatives ensure them a living wage and better working conditions. These products may cost marginally more, but are readily available at many supermarkets.

Protect sustainable tea and coffee farming. On fair trade tea and coffee farms, agrochemicals and genetically modified organisms are strictly prohibited, sustainable farming methods are encouraged and stringent programs for water conservation and proper waste disposal provide environmental stewardship.

Protect the oceans with fair trade cotton. Buying clothing made with fair trade cotton means less synthetic apparel, so washing won’t shed microplastics that make their way into the ocean, fish and then our dinner plates.

Help build strong communities with fair trade cosmetics. When the shea butter, cocoa butter, sugar and coconut oil used in many skin-care products comes from fair trade producers, a fair price is paid, decent working conditions without child labor are assured and a portion of the money is returned to infrastructure or community projects. Makers of fair trade cosmetics often use vegan ingredients and animal-free testing, as well. 

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