fairtrade.jpg Fair trade: It’s a social movement that has picked up steam in the past decade, and there is plenty of reason to cheer about this reality. Quite simply, this global effort is making the planet a better place — one orchestrated step at a time! Amid the increase in fair trade products, consumers have a greater number of avenues available to make wise, impacting decisions. Before going into those options, however, let’s take a peek into what makes a good or service fair trade.

A glimpse into the movement

When you shop at a major retailer – physical or online – you might wonder where the product you are eyeing was manufactured. What material(s) were used to make the item? Are they quality? Most importantly, what kinds of conditions did the person creating said item work under? Was he or she paid a fair, livable wage in his or her respective country? With fair trade, the above questions are answered from the get-go because of the rigorous certification system involved in having a label affixed to a particular product – from handicrafts to honey. At last count, more than 1.2 million farmers and workers participated in the fair trade movement. Participants have hailed from more than 60 countries on continents that span the globe! The folks at the nonprofit Fair Trade USA organization have laid out a good explanation of what exactly the movement entails: “From far-away farms to your shopping cart, products that bear our logo come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated. We help farmers in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities.” Seeking out goods and services with the fair trade label is unlike any other type of shopping expedition. The entire movement was established on the premise of a partnership that is based on dialogue, respect and transparency through international trade. Equity and equality are the guiding forces behind the movement. Fair Trade USA is one of a number of global organizations that certify products. Other nonprofits include Eco-Social, Fairtrade International and the Institute for Marketecology (more frequently referred to as simply IMO). How to do it With that explainer out of the way, you no doubt are interested in learning how to purchase fair trade certified products. You have a number of options at your fingertips. Fair Trade USA, for example, has a virtual shopping guide (http://fairtradeusa.org/shopping-guide) that gives a quick glimpse into where you can find fair trade-certified chocolate, clothing, coffee and tea, herbs and spices, produce and sugar and sweeteners. Coffee, by far the beverage of choice by yours truly, is considered a forerunner in the fair trade movement. According to Fair Trade USA, the number of fair trade coffee growers has grown to such a point that more than 500 brands carry the label across North America. This makes sense. I have come across so many varieties – some even in mainstream restaurants and grocery stores – that I don’t I even think twice when I come across a certified coffee product.

Do your homework

For some commodities, you might have to dig a little deeper. For example, if you are in search of clothing donning the fair trade label, you probably will be out of luck if you shop at a major department store. A small, and slowly growing, segment of brick-and-mortar specialty apparel stores – particularly those in urban, progressive communities – are carrying lines with the label. But as of right now, your best bet to find fair trade clothing is by searching around online. For a clothing item to be certified fair trade, it needs to be dually derived from a cotton-growing farmer and sewer who are being compensated with the standards set by movement. As fair trade clothing has grown as a commodity, several exclusive brands have emerged. Among them: Good & FairHAE NowprAna and Tompkins Point Apparel. The amount of certified fair trade clothing available on the marketplace will likely only increase in the future, as this article on One Green Planet astutely points out.

Your neighborhood store might participate

While searching around and shopping online is one of the most effective ways of finding a product that is fair trade certified, you can also use the wonders of the Web to find out if your favorite local shop sells one or more products that have the fair trade label. The nonprofit organization Green America has assembled a handy-dandy list of retailers across the U.S. and Canada who sell one or more fair trade commodities. Green America’s list includes a number of categories, including some of the oft-discussed commodities (coffee/tea and chocolate). But it goes into more finite detail as well. It gives details on which retailers are selling greeting cards, musical instruments and sports balls – just to name a few of the many products on the comprehensive compilation. As you might expect, Green America’s compilation includes a number of specialty retailers in large cities – San Francisco, not surprisingly, is very well represented. But there are a number of shops in small communities as well, so give it a quick look-see. Who knows? You might be surprised to find out a store you walk, bike or drive by every day has fair trade merchandise you never knew existed.

Fighting for a cause

The well-documented cases involving sweatshop labor have resulted in a growing interest in having fair trade clothing available to consumers. As with any of the other commodities available for fair trade, purchasing clothing with the label is about so much more than quality. It’s also about fighting for a quality of life across the planet. “There’s a lot that you, the consumer, can help to do to push forward the fair trade cause,” an author at One Green Planet writes. “You can form local community or college campaign groups, spread the word about sweatshop labor, raise awareness of ethical companies (and) boycott brands with poor records and ethics.” But the most important take-away from One Green Planet’s statement, perhaps, is this: “Above all, choose to vote with your wallet.”