What Exactly is "Fair Trade" & How to Tell if You're Buying It

We all want to do our part to make the world a little better. And lots of people are realizing that one of the most effective things they can do is simply to change their shopping habits! Buying from brands that are doing good for people and the planet means better treatment of workers, less pollution and waste, and economic development in the developing world!

But if you've been a conscious consumer for long, you know that ethical shopping can be confusing. Plenty of brands and companies are making claims about their ethics or sustainability, and it can be hard to know who’s legit and who’s just making empty claims.

That’s actually why we’re here! DoneGood exists so you can quickly and easily find ethically-made products that meet your needs. You can shop confidently, knowing that any DoneGood approved product is free from sweatshops, child or slave labor, and unsustainable environmental practices.

Ethical certifications like Fair Trade can also help! You may have heard fair trade talked about as one of the gold standards for ethical production. But what exactly does "fair trade" mean? And how can you tell if an item you want to buy is fair trade?

Let’s look at some of the most common questions about fair trade!

What does Fair Trade mean?

Fair Trade is a general description that specifies that items were produced in an ethical way, with principles like fair wages, safe working environments, community development funds for workers, and environmental protection. There are several independent certifiers like FAIRTRADE, Fair Trade USA, Fair Trade Federation, or World Fair Trade Organization who ensure that brands and companies are meeting these standards.

A fair trade certification from one of these organizations confirms that a brand or product is acting in accordance with these principles, so a customer feels confident when they shop. A brand’s ethical claims are backed up by ethical, independent certifiers who give their seal of approval to brands, companies, and products who are going above and beyond.

What are the qualifications to become fair trade certified?

A company that wants to be certified as Fair Trade will submit an application and undergo screenings, inspections, on-site visits, and reviews of their records. Companies that meet the highest standards in social and environmental responsibility are rewarded with a fair trade seal, and re-inspected and audited regularly to ensure that they are still meeting fair trade standards.

How Can I tell if something is fair trade certified?

The easiest way to tell that an item is fair trade certified is if it has a fair trade seals on it. They may look like this:

fairtrade international sealfair trade usa sealfair trade federation logo  world fair trade organization seal

If you’re shopping in person, you may see these seals on the actual product or its tags. Online, you may see a seal on the bottom of the brand or store’s website. 

Does an item have to be certified fair trade to be ethically made?

Nope! Lots of brands follow fair principles, but have opted not to go through the fair trade certification process. 

The fair trade label just helps take some of the guesswork out of making a purchase. When you’re looking to buy a bag of coffee or a shirt, it can be overwhelming to sift through an individual brand’s ethics claims to make sure they share your values. That fair trade seal makes it easy...kind of like shopping on DoneGood :)

Are all DoneGood approved products fair trade?

Many of our brands or their products are fair trade certified, but some have chosen not to go through the certification process. Regardless of whether they have that seal or not, we’ve done our research to make sure that all of them operate on fair trade principles—like empowering their workers, paying living wages, and protecting the environment. That DoneGood seal of approval can give you the same peace of mind that a Fair Trade seal gives.

Is the fair trade system perfect?

Detractors sometimes point to issues in the fair trade system to cast doubt on the need for ethical certifications. The fair trade system and fair trade certifiers are not perfect, but making an effort to buy fair trade products, when possible, is still a better alternative to the status quo. By making an effort to shop more ethically whenever possible or practical, you are making the world a better place!





Erin King
DoneGood Contributor

Writer, editor, and all-around language enthusiast who uses her love of words to help others.


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