Fair trade is a model of trade and certification providing living wages and opportunities to those who might be exploited by the free market, such as farmers in developing countries. In return, producers agree to meet specific labor, environmental and production standards. Various organizations, including Fair Trade USA, offer fair trade certification, ensuring consumers that the item they've purchased was produced and sold ethically. However, there are some concerns with fair trade practices, despite the many benefits.
Pro: Good Pay and Community Benefits
Purchasing fair trade products ensures that the people who created them, from weavers to farmers, enjoy a living wage that's often much higher than what they would typically earn. Fair trade cooperatives also allow participants to invest money in their communities, supporting things such as education and medical care, according to Fair Trade Resource. Fair trade groups also promote environmentally sustainable practices, which encourage recycling and use of natural materials, and ban the use of certain pesticides.
Pro: Worker Safety and Protections
Fair trade workers enjoy safe conditions. All machines and equipment they use must meet rigorous standards. Dangerous substances they might be exposed to at non-fair trade businesses, such as toxic fertilizers, are prohibited. Managers of fair trade businesses protect children, ensuring they receive an education and are not abused. Discrimination based on factors such as religion and gender is also banned in fair trade businesses, providing an equal platform for all workers.
Con: High Fees
To maintain fair trade certification, participating individuals and organizations must pay an initial joining fee and annual fees. These expenses range from several hundred to several thousand dollars, according to World Centric, and are very costly for those in the developing world with limited incomes. Many people and groups who would like to participate in a fair trade organization cannot afford the price of membership and are unable to obtain certification.
Though many people benefit by participating in fair trade schemes, there are limits to what such groups can achieve, and not all employees connected to fair trade organizations reap the rewards. The Stanford Social Innovation Review explains migrant laborers working on fair trade farms are often unable to join the required cooperatives. As a result, they are deprived of the benefits provided by fair trade organizations, including higher wages and protection from exploitation.