Fair Trade USA making its mark

Lawrence Aylward
Editor In Chief
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Fair Trade USA’s standards require sustainable production and farming practices, improved working conditions and better wages for farmers and workers, among other things.

Happy birthday to Fair Trade USA, which turned 20 years old in October.

Fair Trade USA is a social enterprise started by Paul Rice and is a third-party certifier of fair trade products in North America, including many products for private brands such as coffee and tea. Fair Trade USA’s mission is simple: It enables sustainable development and community empowerment by cultivating a more equitable global trade model that benefits farmers, workers, fishermen, consumers, industry and the Earth, according to its mission statement.

Fair Trade USA simply works to make trade more fair. Its standards require sustainable production and farming practices, improved working conditions, better prices and wages for farmers and workers, and more transparent trade practices. Fair Trade USA prohibits child labor, forced labor, GMOs and encourages environmentally friendly production.

Products that are certified feature the Fair Trade Certified logo. To earn the Fair Trade USA certification, farms must meet and adhere to a rigorous set of social, environmental and economic standards. Once certified, farmers and workers earn a premium on top of every sale, which goes into a community-managed bank account. These funds are then used on projects in areas like healthcare, education, water and food security to foster advancement in the community.

“Over the last 20 years, we’ve had more than $551 million in direct community development premiums going back to farmers in more than 45 countries,” says Abby Ayers, Fair Trade USA’s senior business development manager of retail partnerships. “More than 900,000 farmers and workers have directly benefited from fair trade. We’ve had a lot of impact.”

Ayers says many manufacturers and retailers of private brands have taken a leadership role in producing products that are Fair Trade Certified in the last several years.

“We’ve launched about 800 private brand items that have been certified over the last 20 years, and 120 of those produces were introduced in 2017,” Ayers adds.

Retailers and manufacturers of Fair Trade Certified products can tell stories through products, such as putting a face to the farmers who grew the ingredients for the products, Ayers notes. Products that are Fair Trade Certified are also transparent as to their origins. Telling stories and using transparency through products also provide a point of differentiation.

Ayers says the organization has been pushing Fair Trade USA’s message to educate more consumers.

“We have a communications team that is focused on social media, traditional media and public relations to continue to drive forward the message to consumers,” she adds.

The team’s efforts are paying off.

“Many more consumers are seeking out our seals,” Ayers says, noting a recent study showed that 63 percent of consumers were aware of the Fair Trade Certified logo and its meaning, second only to the USDA Certified Organic label.

One retailer that has embraced the Fair Trade USA initiative is The Kroger Co., which carries many Fair Trade Certified products under its Simple Truth private brand. Those products span multiple commodities.

Fair Trade USA also exhibited at the Private Label Manufacturers Association’s (PLMA) Private Label Trade Show Nov. 12-13 for the first time.

“Many of the exhibitors are our partners,” Ayers says. “We realized we could use the show to make a bigger splash.”