The voices of divisiveness and “me first” seem to be screaming the loudest around the world today. It’s “us” against “them” on every front. Climate change is undeniably building toward global crisis as we speak, and income inequality grows daily.

True fair trade is a beacon of hope through the noise for an alternative approach to building a sustainable global community. “Fair trade” is a term tossed around by politicians and marketers with abandon, but true Fair Trade is a whole system based on fairness at every level, with people and planet taking equal billing with profit. At its heart, the fair trade movement is focused on building equitable and sustainable trading partnerships and creating opportunities to alleviate poverty.

So exactly what is “fair trade”? The international “Fair Trade Charter,” launched in September 25, 2018, sets out a vision of a world in which justice, equity and sustainable development are at the heart of trade structures, business models and practices so that everyone, through their work, can maintain a decent and dignified livelihood and develop their full human potential.

According to the Charter, the agreed definition of Fair Trade is, “a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South. Fair Trade Organisations have a clear commitment to Fair Trade as the principal core of their mission. They, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.”

Fair trade is built around a core set of principles, including:

  1. Create Opportunities for economically and socially marginalized farmers and artisans. Fair trade is a strategy for poverty alleviation and sustainable development achieved through long-term trading partnerships.

  2. Develop Transparent and Accountable Relationships with artisans and farmers to ensure that relationships are open, fair, consistent, and respectful.

  3. Build Capacity of farmers, artisans, and their communities, by helping producers build their businesses and create sustainable supply chains.

  4. Promote Fair Trade by raising awareness about fair trade, educating customers and producers, and inspiring others to adopt fair trade practices.

  5. Pay Promptly and Fairly by discussing costs and pricing openly and honestly so that producers are able to earn a fair wage.

  6. Support Safe and Empowering Working Conditions that are free of discrimination and forced labor and empower producers to participate in decision-making.

  7. Cultivate Environmental Stewardship by encouraging responsible use of resources and eco-friendly production.

  8. Ensure the Rights of Children by never using exploitative child labor.

  9. Respect the Cultural Identity of the farmers and artisans and celebrate diversity. Fair trade products and production methods respect the traditions of the local communities.

  10. Fair Trade Codes of Practice outline specific expectations for each principle.

In North America, the Fair Trade Federation (FTF) is the only trade association that screens and verifies companies that practice 360° fair trade. These organizations don’t just buy and sell a few fair trade products – they integrate fair trade practices into everything they do. For handcrafted artisanal products, FTF membership is your confirmation that the products are sourced in accordance with fair trade principles.

You will also see some products in the marketplace that carry a fair trade “certification seal.” Fair trade certification involves a worksite audit and a 10% fair trade premium. These labels increasingly focus on large factories and farms. They are often used by multi-national brands who cannot be fully fair trade but wish to improve some of their practices.

There are also other “Fair Trade” member organizations in North America that support and encourage the use of fair trade principles, but don’t have any verification or certification role.

In all Fair Trade it is highly important to keep the product cost at a level that allows the payment of a fair living wage to the artisans and the retention of a fair profit by the enterprise for future expansion, while minimizing shipping costs to the extent possible. And we always have to keep in mind that the final wholesale and retail price in the U.S. must be within the range of reasonable customer expectations.

Building a U.S. market for Fair Trade products is often like balancing on a tightrope, but it is worth the effort because it represents a path to a global future built on collaboration, community, and environmental sustainability.

After 31 years of practicing law, Rikki Quintana began providing unique high-quality artisan-crafted fashion and gifts from Central Asia for discerning shoppers who want to use their dollars to make the world a better place. For more information, visit