How does food empower people around the world?

by Deena on January 21, 2011

Do you ever wonder about the farmer, when you’re drinking that cup of coffee or eating that fresh piece of fruit?  Personally, I hadn’t really thought about it too much in the past.  I know when I go to the local farmers’ market to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables, I’m always happy to talk to the farmer I’m buying from.  But I’ve never really thought too much about non-local foods.

Recently however I became interested when researching more on organic foods.  I kept noticing a common theme regarding Fair Trade attached to many books and articles discussing organic foods.  Fair Trade particularly becomes important when you start talking about items such as coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, bananas, honey, chocolate, non-local fresh fruits and wine….most of which are imported.  Even if you purchase a US based company’s chocolate bar, chances are that chocolate was made from cacao beans ground into a powder and shipped to the US from a foreign country.

So what is Fair Trade?  Fair Trade ensures that farmers receive a guaranteed fair price and good labor conditions, including safe working conditions and fair living wages.  The idea of a fair price and safe working conditions may seem common practice in the United States however many of the items mentioned above are imported from developing countries.  Most of us probably remember the scandal years ago, of Kathy Lee Gifford finding out that children were being used to sew her clothing line.  Fair Trade ensures that the companies providing any of the products listed above were not provided by forced child labor.

According to Fair Trade USA (, 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 principles include:

  • Fair price: Democratically organized farmer groups receive a guaranteed minimum price and an additional premium for certified organic products.
  • Fair labor conditions: Workers on Fair Trade farms enjoy safe working conditions, and living wages. Forced child labor is strictly prohibited.
  • Direct trade: With Fair Trade, importers purchase directly from Fair Trade farmers when possible, eliminating unnecessary middlemen and empowering farmers to develop the business capacity necessary to compete in the global marketplace.
  • 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 (genetically modified organisms) are strictly prohibited in favor of environmentally sustainable farming methods that protect farmers’ health and preserve valuable ecosystems for future generations.

If you’re anything like me then you’re thinking ok I agree with the principles of fair trade but how do I know if I’m purchasing Fair Trade items?  Fair Trade certification is a product certification process designed to allow people to identify products that meet the agreed environmental, labor and developmental standards.  Companies offering products that meet these standards receive a license to use one of the Fair Trade Certification Marks shown below:

So not only are we asking you to think about moving towards purchasing organic products we are also asking you to begin thinking about purchasing Fair Trade certified items – this will move us towards not only becoming more healthy but also more environmentally and economically responsible.

For more information you can view the Empowering People around the World presentation by TransFair USA.  The presentation and photos really help to tell the story.   Below are other links used in the research and development of this article:

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