Many products that are consumed are produced by workers who receive low wages and work in poor working conditions, which is why people are starting to be more conscientious about purchasing Fairtrade products. Fairtrade products are goods that have been harvested or produced by workers who are fairly compensated. Not every product you buy has a Fairtrade option, but goods that can often be found with a Fairtrade label include coffee, tea, bananas, chocolate, flowers, cotton, and several others. There are several different organizations that oversee fair trade, but one of the largest is Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, which has a specific set of standards and rules that are important to understand when you are looking for Fairtrade products.
The history of Fairtrade products extends back almost 30 years. In 1988, the first fair trade label was launched in the Netherlands. It was coffee from Mexico that was called Max Havelaar. Soon, the use of the fair trade label extended to other countries, and by 1997, Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) was established to unite all of the labeling initiatives under one umbrella. FLO also had the goal of setting standards and certifications. In 2002, the official Fairtrade certification mark was launched, and in 2007, FLO was recognized as one of seven organizations with high standards for ethical trade.
FLO has two specific sets of standards that guide Fairtrade products. The first set of standards applies to smallholders who are working together in co-ops with a democratic structure. The second set of standards applies to workers to ensure they are paid decent wages, guaranteed the right to join trade unions, have health and safety standards, and are provided adequate housing when relevant. FLO also has set a Fairtrade minimum price that must be paid to producers. Additionally, producers receive a Fairtrade premium that must use to invest in their community’s social, economic, and environmental conditions. As you can see, the Fairtrade standards act as a safeguard for workers’ rights, while also ensuring that the community receives positive benefits.
There are many benefits of the Fairtrade standards, including the stability the minimum price provides. The Fairtrade minimum price provides some protection from market fluctuations by making sure that the cost of production can be covered even when market prices dip very low. Another benefit of Fairtrade is that the producers are involved in decisions that affect their futures. As joint owners and managers of FLO, producers can influence prices, premiums, standards, and strategy. Workers also benefit, not just by receiving fair wages, but also by having a representative on the committee that decides the Fairtrade premium. Clearly, all parties involved in FLO have a stake in the decisions and benefit from the strict standards and policies.
FLO encourages producers to use environmentally stable production methods. Producers are also encouraged to work towards becoming organically certified. In order to provide environmental protection, FLO requires producers to deal with erosion problems and waste management. Producers must also follow national and international standards for handling chemicals, they are not allowed to use genetically modified organisms, and they must find ways to decrease their environmental impact. By having such strict environmental rules, FLO ensures that the companies that carry the Fairtrade label are not causing unnecessary environmental damage that can have long term consequences.
Certification for Fairtrade products is run by FLO-CERT, which ensures the social and environmental standards are met. For a company to become certified, they must first be audited through an on-site inspection. Depending on the size of the company, the inspection can take as little as 4 days or as long as 7 weeks. Once the audit is complete the report is reviewed and evaluated. If the evaluation committee finds that everything is in order, the company can receive certification. A fee is required for certification, but, as you know, there are benefits to being Fairtrade certified.
Not all Fairtrade products are organic, but they are encouraged to be. So, if you are looking for organic products the Fairtrade label does not ensure an organic product. Generally, you will find that Fairtrade products are better quality, which is a result of the stringent production requirements to keep certification. You might be surprised to learn that not all Fairtrade products cost more. While some do cost more as a result of the minimum price, some products cost the same, and others actually cost less. Ultimately, how much you pay is determined by the retailer. Whatever the price, you will at least know that you purchased a product that was grown or made ethically.
The mission and values of FLO are centered on ethics. They strive to promote fair trading conditions and to connect disadvantaged producers with consumers. Also, FLO believes Fairtrade can decrease poverty and help people overcome marginalization. An additional mission of FLO is to inform consumers about the importance of Fairtrade.
If you have ever seen a Fairtrade label and wonder what it meant, you now know that the workers who produced that product received fair wages. You also know that the product was made with environmentally sound practices. Both fair wages and environmentally sound production are important for the future. I hope if you have the opportunity to buy Fairtrade products and can afford them, you will take it. Were you aware of the significance of the Fairtrade label?
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