Many socially responsible businesses embrace Fair Trade as a keystone of how they conduct business with producers and manufacturers.
Not to be confused with “Free Trade,” Fair Trade is a conscious effort to do business with firms, companies, cooperatives and individuals in an equitable and fair manner – especially those in the poor and developing nations of Africa and Latin America.
One might ask: shouldn’t all business be conducted in this fashion? Yes, of course! However many products grown and produced in relatively poor nations (such as Guatemala) are brought to market by large distributors. As a consequence there is no direct connection between producers and the market place. That makes it difficult for a business or individual to be sure that trade is conducted in a fair manner.
And that is precisely why Fair Trade organizations were formed.
Perhaps the best current example of a product traded fairly is coffee.
There are countless plantations in Central America and other regions that grow coffee. Historically the workers and peasants were not paid enough to feed their families, much less to guarantee access to medical care or decent housing. Laborers worked long hours without breaks in unsafe conditions, often exposed to toxic chemicals. To this day child labor is common at coffee growing plantations that are not part of the Fair Trade movement.
However, things started to change once Fair Trade groups were formed.
Non-government organizations (NGOs), developed in large part by coffee cooperatives, established direct lines of distribution between producers and the market place. They established rules and regulations to insure workers are paid a living wage (relative to the region where they work): that they are not exploited; that coffee is grown, harvested and distributed in a sustainable manner. They also established a mechanism to insure that participants follow such guidelines, and developed a label for coffee that is “Fair Trade.”
The Fair Trade label also assures that coffee is grown without the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, oil-based fertilizers, or other harmful chemicals, and that it is harvested and brought to market in a sustainable manner.
Many natural food stores and restaurants now offer Fair Trade coffee to their customers, creating yet another opportunity for businesses small and large to be socially responsible.