Fair Trade FAQs

What is fair trade?

Fair trade is a system that promotes the exchange of goods at a fair, equitable price across international borders.  Fair trade approaches development as process:  fair trade organizations cultivate partnerships with their suppliers and contribute to the development of marginalized and impoverished communities.  Fair trade is not about charity; it simply uses a fairer system of exchange to empower producers and to create sustainable, positive change.

How long has it been in North America?

Fair trade began in 1946 with Edna Ruth Byler, a Mennonite volunteer.  It began to grow in the 1970s as aid organizations sought relationships with marginalized groups in the South and tried to sell “ethnic” household goods in North America.  In recent years fair trade has begun trying to make a wider impact in “mainstream markets” by using conventional retail and marketing.

What kind of goods are available?

A wide variety of fair trade items exist. Consumers can find fairly traded clothing, coffee, food, furniture, home decor, house wares, tea, toys, personal accessories, etc.  Visit www.tenthousandvillages.com to see all kinds of products that exist.

Do fair trade items cost more than regular items?

It honestly depends.  Because fair trade organizations work directly with producers, these organizations cut out anywhere from 3-10 middlemen who raise the price along the way in conventional trading; as a result, the cost of items can be the same as or a little lower than unfairly traded products.  In megastores, however, where the cheapest product is more important than all else, fairly traded products may cost more.  How do you beat a $4 t-shirt at ____(insert megastore)_____?  Regardless of the end cost, all fairly traded goods return a higher percentage of the selling price to the artisans and farmers who made the product.

Who faces the most risk of being exploited by unfair trade?

Unfair trade frequently exploits individuals who live in third world countries and rely on agricultural products (bananas, coffee, cocoa) to make enough money to survive.  If there is a bad crop year, an entire village may lose its entire income.  For this reason, most fair trade organizations work with women and children in third world countries, helping these groups provide another form of income to support their families.

What can I do to support fair trade?

Individuals can support fair trade in numerous ways.  They can educate their communities about fair trade options available, bring fairly traded items into their home, office, faith community, school, or other group, and ask for products from fair trade organizations in their local stores.  In addition, they can volunteer with fair trade groups.

Does fair trade really make a difference?

Yes!  Because fair trade, producer communities can build schools, construct wells, educate their children, and develop communities.  There are numerous, tangible ways that income generated by fair trade sales positively resonates in a community.  One can also note the impact of fair trade both directly and indirectly: cultural techniques are revived; women and children become valued members of their societies; alternative production methods preserve biodiversity; small and medium sized enterprises in the developing world survive.  Through this and other evidence we know fair trade changes lives – for the better.