Time Is Money

Consider a Fair Trade Shopping Spree

by: Leah Dobkin | from: AARP Bulletin | - Updated June 24, 2008

Can you change the world just by changing your shopping list?  According to proponents of the "fair trade" movement, with the purchase of a bag of fair trade coffee you can reach across the world and help build a hospital or a new water system or help impoverished children and women go to school

Fair trade promotes livable wages, safe working conditions and long-term economic and environmental sustainability for farmers, workers and artisans in developing countries. While "green" and organic products have gained traction in the U.S. market, so have fair trade products. Walk into many McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, or Sam’s Clubs, and you’ll find fair trade coffee.

You may not save money—though fair trade products are often a good buy—but you could find satisfaction. And you are not alone. The increasing demand for Fair Trade Certified (FTC) products—those that meet strict international criteria—has fueled an industry that is growing at a rate of approximately 40 percent a year. Fair trade sales globally reached $2.6 billion in 2006.

Fair trade products have expanded beyond coffee to include cocoa, tea, herbs, fresh fruit, sugar, rice and spices. FTC flowers, cotton, honey, sports balls, wine and beer are available in Europe and will soon be certified in the United States. Although there is no third-party fair trade certification for crafts, housewares and garments, many importers and retailers do adhere to general fair trade principles.

Fair trade products may cost the same and sometimes less than mass market items, because the large percentage taken by the middleman is removed from the equation. For example, FTC coffees and chocolates are generally priced competitively with specialty coffees and chocolates—but they are more expensive than mass-produced varieties. On the other hand, FTC bananas can cost much more than conventional bananas, because of higher transportation costs.

If you’re interested in finding FTC products, it’s easier than ever. Not only are more products available in local retail stores, but you can also buy them on the Internet.

For more information on fair trade, go to:

Fair Trade Federation: An association of businesses and organizations committed to fair trade.

Green Pages: A directory of green businesses across the country that offer fair trade products.

Global Exchange: Hosts a fair trade online store and offers educational tours to more than 30 countries, about a third of which focus on fair trade issues.

SweatFree Shopping Guide:  Information on products with a socially conscious twist.

Fair Trade Certified: A list of retail locations offering products certified by TransFair USA, the only independent, third-party organization that certifies fair trade products in the United States.