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Fair-Trade foods: Change the world with what you eat

Have you been wondering what the term “Fair-Trade certified” means when it comes to food? If you have a general idea that it may be a “good thing,” but aren’t sure where to find these foods, or how to use them, we can help.

When you see the Fair-Trade certified mark on food and other goods, you can be assured that the producers in developing countries have received a fair price for their products, allowing them to make investments into improving their local community and infrastructure.

Rise of labeling initiatives

Sales of fair-trade products only took off with the arrival of the first Fairtrade certification initiatives. Although buoyed by growing sales, fair trade had been generally confined to small world shops scattered across Europe and, to a lesser extent, North America. Some felt that these shops were too disconnected from the rhythm and the lifestyle of contemporary developed societies. The inconvenience of going to them to buy only a product or two was too high even for the most dedicated customers. The only way to increase sale opportunities was to offer fair trade products where consumers normally shop, in large distribution channels. The problem was to find a way to expand distribution without compromising consumer trust in fair trade products and in their origins.

A solution was found in 1988, when the first fair trade certification initiative, Max Havelaar, was created in the Netherlands under the initiative of Nico Roozen, Frans Van Der Hoff, and Dutch development NGO Solidaridad. The independent certification allowed the goods to be sold outside the world shops and into the mainstream, reaching a larger consumer segment and boosting fair trade sales significantly. The labeling initiative also allowed customers and distributors alike to track the origin of the goods to confirm that the products were really benefiting the producers at the end of the supply chain.

The concept caught on: in ensuing years, similar non-profit Fairtrade labelling organizations were set up in other European countries and North America. In 1997, a process of convergence among “LIs” (“Labeling Initiatives”) led to the creation of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, an umbrella organization whose mission is to set fair trade standards, support, inspect, and certify disadvantaged producers, and harmonize the fair-trade message across the movement.

In 2002, FLO launched an International Fairtrade Certification Mark. The goals were to improve the visibility of the Mark on supermarket shelves, facilitate cross border trade, and simplify procedures for both producers and importers. The certification mark is used in more than 50 countries and on dozens of different products, based on FLO’s certification for coffee, tea, rice, bananas, mangoes, cocoa, cotton, sugar, honey, fruit juices, nuts, fresh fruit, quinoa, herbs and spices, wine, footballs, etc.

With ethical labeling, consumers can take moral responsibility for their economic decisions and actions. This supports the notion of fair-trade practices as “moral economies”. The presence of labeling gives consumers the feeling of “doing the right thing” with a simple purchase.

Labeling practices place the burden of getting certification on the producers in the Global South, furthering inequality between the Global North and the Global South. The process of securing certification is burdensome and expensive. Northern consumers are able to make a simple choice while being spared these burdens and expenses.

With Fair Trade certified ingredients ranging from pasta and spices to cocoa and tea, you have many options for making a positive contribution to the lives of producers, sustaining the earth and the global economy. And now you can even use Fair Trade certified spices (pepper, ginger, nutmeg, Ceylon cinnamon, cloves & turmeric) to enhance your dishes, thanks to the efforts of the Frontier Natural Products Co-op folks.

You can prepare entire Fair-Trade meals for any time of day. As you plan a meal, simply check through your list of ingredients to see which ones may be offered in a Fair-Trade version.

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