Free Trade vs. Fair Trade - what's the difference?
Free Trade policies seek to open up the global marketplace by eliminating trade barriers. But too often, "barriers" (regulations) that protect workers and the environment are eliminated too.
The free global market also tends to marginalize independent farmers and artisans, who have little access to market information, to capital or credit, or to the marketplace itself. Export policies often force farmers or artisans to deal with middlemen and watch their own income evaporate.
Fair Trade gifts are imported under an alternative system - Fair Trade organizations work directly with artisans and small farmers through democratically run cooperatives. Thus workers gain a voice in setting fair prices for their products.
By circumventing the middlemen, the "little guy" gains direct access to global markets. Fair Trade organizations provide business know-how, helping artisans and farmers to be competitive while avoiding cost-cutting practices that impair product quality.
Fair Trade co-ops eliminate exploitation so workers can earn enough income for basic food, shelter, education and health care. As living standards improve, the children can go to school instead of laboring in the fields or in sweatshops. Communities are strengthened, enabling them to undertake initiatives like clean water, a village's first high school, and accessible health care facilities.
In short, Fair Trade is fair to the workers who produce the goods. It's fair to the environment and to the economy because it fosters sustainable development. And it's fair to the consumer because you can purchase high quality Fair Trade gifts at competitive prices.
So we encourage you to "Look for the Label"
This is the label used by Transfair USA; it can be found on Fair Trade coffee and other food products. Fair Trade labels are your guarantee that the products bearing them meet standards established by Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO), a consortium of Fair Trade groups in the US, Canada, Japan, and 17 European countries.
In Europe, look for this Mark on Fair Trade products. Fairtrade Foundation merchants carry Fair Trade gifts such as food and agricultural products (including wines and beers), cotton products and sports balls.
Some FLO members and their affiliates use their own Fair Trade labels. GlobalExchange and Fair Trade Federation labels are frequently seen online. Other respected organizations have developed and branded their own Fair Trade programs.
NOVICA, in association with National Geographic, is an example. They deal directly with artists through regional offices worldwide. Artists independently set their own prices and pay no fee to list their products at NOVICA. NOVICA's direct artist-to-buyer route means lower prices for the buyer.