Fair Trade Overview

Fair Trade Certification empowers farmers and farm workers to lift themselves out of poverty by investing in their farms and communities, protecting the environment, and developing the business skills necessary to compete in the global marketplace.

Fair Trade is much more than a fair price!  Fair Trade principles include:

  • Fair price: Democratically organized farmer groups receive a guaranteed minimum floor price and an additional premium for certified organic products. Farmer organizations are also eligible for pre-harvest credit.

  • Fair labor conditions: Workers on Fair Trade farms enjoy freedom of association, safe working conditions, and living wages. Forced child labor is strictly prohibited.

  • Direct trade: With Fair Trade, importers purchase from Fair Trade producer groups as directly as possible, eliminating unnecessary middlemen and empowering farmers to develop the business capacity necessary to compete in the global marketplace.

  • Democratic and transparent organizations: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers decide democratically how to invest Fair Trade revenues.

  • Community development: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers invest Fair Trade premiums in social and business development projects like scholarship programs, quality improvement trainings, and organic certification.

  • Environmental sustainability: Harmful agrochemicals and GMOs are strictly prohibited in favor of environmentally sustainable farming methods that protect farmers’ health and preserve valuable ecosystems for future generations.

TransFair USA, a non-profit organization, is the only independent, third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the U.S. and one of 20 members of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO). TransFair’s rigorous audit system, which tracks products from farm to finished product, verifies industry compliance with Fair Trade criteria. TransFair allows U.S. companies to display the Fair Trade Certified label on products that meet strict Fair Trade standards

Fair Trade Certification is currently available in the U.S. for coffee, tea and herbs, cocoa and chocolate, fresh fruit, sugar, rice, and vanilla

History of Fair Trade

Max Havelaar: The Certification Pioneer
In 1988, world coffee prices began a sharp descent, triggering the birth of the first Fair Trade certification initiative. It was branded "Max Havelaar," after a fictional Dutch character who opposed the exploitation of coffee pickers in Dutch colonies. The Netherland's Max Havelaar label offered mainstream coffee industry players the opportunity to adopt a standardized system of Fair Trade criteria.

In 1997, FLO, the international umbrella organization for Fair Trade labeling, brought Max Havelaar together with its counterparts in other countries. Today, TransFair USA is a member of FLO, which now has representation in 19 countries across Europe, North America, and Japan.

Alternative trade organizations: Roots of Fair Trade
The roots of Fair Trade can be traced back to projects initiated by churches in North America and Europe in the late 1940s. Their goal was to provide relief to refugees and other poverty stricken communities by selling their handicrafts to Northern markets. Compared to conventional trading structures, these Alternative Trade Organizations (ATOs) offered higher returns to producers in the developing world through direct trade and fair prices. In the US, ATOs such as Ten Thousand Villages and SERRV have followed this model with Fair Trade handicrafts, and in 1986, Equal Exchange was formed to import Fair Trade coffee to the US market.

TransFair brings certification to the US
Fair Trade Certified coffee is now the fastest-growing segment of the US specialty coffee market. Building on the success of Max Havelaar and ATOs, TransFair USA opened its doors in late 1998 and began certifying Fair Trade coffee in 1999. In addition to coffee, TransFair has introduced Fair Trade Certified tea and cocoa to the US market. In Europe, Fair Trade products include tea, chocolate, bananas, sugar, honey and orange juice. In six years, TransFair has leveraged limited resources to certify 74 million pounds of Fair Trade coffee. This has generated US$60 million of additional
income for farmers, providing lasting benefits for their families and the earth.