Fair Trade USA

October 1, 2020

I was exposed to the idea of fair trade and to the company Fair Trade USA sometime throughout my stay at a very liberal college. And I’ve known since then that the idea of Fair Trade USA is great, this is what everyone should be doing, right?

Well I’d never really gotten passed the idea of it. I'd buy Fair Trade Certified products over other products when I could, but I’d never before dug into the nitty gritty, never looked into what it really means... Until now! I got in there and I scoured the website. I downloaded and fully read pdfs loaded with legal mumbo jumbo about how to get a factory, or a farm, Fair Trade Certified. I read everything I could find that seemed to be related to what hurdles people are jumping to get their products Fair Trade Certified. And damn, I was impressed.

Fair Trade USA is a nonprofit organization and the leading certifier of Fair Trade products in North America[1]. They work to promote sustainable livelihoods for small producers and workers in agriculture, fishing, and apparel and home goods factory settings. They also work to protect fragile ecosystems and build strong, transparent supply chains through independent, third-party certification systems[1].

Fair Trade USA was founded in 1998 and since then has impacted not only the lives of more than 2 million farmers and factory workers but has also brought about a new type of shopper: the conscious consumer[2]. Fair Trade USA began researching the feasibility of certifying apparel in 2006[3] and has since impacted more than 30,000 apparel factory workers in 12 countries[2].

I chose Fair Trade USA as the first profile on this blog because they are pretty much the standard by which everyone else is measured. They go over and above the international standards to ensure that the lives of workers are both safe and fulfilling. So today I thought that I'd share what I learned about this non-profit. The following is a run down of the Fair Trade USA requirements for apparel and home goods factories. I hope that you learn as much as I did and are as impressed as I am.

Factory Certification Standards:
Worker Health and Safety

Fair Trade Certified Factories are held to the Fair Trade Factory Standard which covers all of the International Labor Organization (ILO) requirements (see here) and is based on the Social Accountability International standard, SA8000 (see here)[2]. These basically ensure that forced labor and child labor are prohibited and that health and safety protections, standard work hours, mandatory breaks, and legal wages and benefits are all required along with freedom from discrimination and abuse and freedom of association[2].

Buyer’s Commitment

Product buyers agree to pay a Premium on top of the product price. This money is put into a worker managed bank account and can be distributed as cash to the workers or they can democratically decide to invest in a community project[4]. Some examples of community projects include: bicycles for workers, medical programs or health insurance policies, and childcare facilities[3]. Buyers also agree to do their best to ensure a product’s success through marketing and merchandising[4]. They maintain a relationship with the supplier and commit to longer-term business relationships if product sales are successful[4]. This helps to ensure job security for factory workers.

Women’s Rights

Fair Trade USA understands that women often carry undue burden in apparel factories and so have specific requirements for the treatment of women. Fair Trade USA requires that women receive equal pay for equal work, will not be pressured to use contraception, cannot be forced to take a pregnancy test, receive reasonable accommodation while pregnant, and will be granted at least 8 weeks maternity leave and will have the same position when they return to work as when they left with equivalent pay and benefits[3].

Worker’s Rights

Fair Trade USA’s standards ensure that workers have the right to gather and discuss workplace issues[3]. Grievance procedures are in place that provide a mechanism through which workers have the right to be heard and the right to appeal[3]. Grievances must be documented and addressed by management in a way that is clear to workers[3]. Management cannot discipline or dismiss workers for using these procedures[3].

Environmental Protection

Fair Trade USA requires that factories make efforts to protect and restore the natural environment and drive continuous improvement toward cleaner production[3]. Facilities must also develop and implement a measurable plan aimed at: increasing efficiency, minimizing pollution and waste, reducing use of natural resources, and properly managing waste[3]. All chemicals are to be stored in a way that minimizes potential risks and exposure to the workers, the environment, and the products being manufactured[3]. Facilities must eliminate toxic and hazardous substances and abide by the Restricted Materials list[3].

Cotton Farm Certification Standards:

Fair Trade Farm Workers and Fair Trade Factory Workers share most of the same basic rights. All of the same ‘Worker Health and Safety’ Standards are required along with all of the ‘Worker’s Rights’ Standards and most of the ‘Environmental Rights’ Standards.

Other specific standards include:
  • Small producers are trained in financial literacy and are supported in diversifying their livelihoods[1].
  • Migrant workers are recruited ethically[1].
  • Buyers pay a premium for products and it is used for community development projects or distributed as cash[1].
  • Farmers use integrated pest management (IPM) and other best practices to protect soils and reduce the use of pesticides[1].
  • That there is traceability throughout the supply chain and Certificate holders are transparent with Fair Trade USA and the Certification Body[1].
  • An internal management system (IMS) facilitates compliance and improvements[1]. The relationship between the Certification Holder and any separately-managed entities included under the Certificate are transparent, empowering, and non-discriminatory[1].

All in all I am very impressed with the certification processes at Fair Trade USA. It is rigorous and is probably very difficult to implement. After this somewhat grueling research experience, I feel very confident buying apparel and home goods that are Fair Trade Certified... now where can I find those?

Soon, the Just Ethical Goods marketplace will be able to link you to Fair Trade Certified products! You will be able to compare products easily and find the best product for you before continuing onto the retail site for purchase.

We’re looking forward to it!

  1. “Agricultural Production Standard (APS) At a Glance” Fair Trade USA, June. 2017, /files/file manager/documents/APS/FTUSA_INT_APSOverview_EN _1.0.0.pdf
  2. “Fair Trade USA Apparel and Home Goods Program” Fair Trade USA, 2015, https://www. filemanager/documents/1_AHG_FairTradeFactory101Website_170410.pdf
  3. “Fair Trade USA Factory Standard for Apparel and Home Goods Version 1.2” Fair Trade USA, 2013, sites/ default/files/filemanager/documents/APS/FTUSA_ FactoryStandardAHG _1.2_EN_03062014.pdf
  4. “Fair Trade USA Trade Standard: Apparel and Home Goods Version 1.1” Fair Trade USA, Oct. 2013, /filemanager/documents/APS/ FTUSA_TradeStandardAHG_1.1_EN_ 102513.pdf