Recently, I have seen many retailers stating they offer for sale Fair Trade Tea. In addition to the “certified organic” label on tea, I have begun to see “Fair Trade” labels as well. Even articles in tea publications are talking about “Fair Trade Tea”. What is all the fuss about?
According to Wikipedia, Fair trade is an organized social movement and market-based approach to empowering developing country producers and promoting sustainability. The movement advocates the payment of a fair price as well as social and environmental standards in areas related to the production of a wide variety of goods. It focuses in particular on exports from developing countries to developed countries, most notably handicrafts, coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, bananas, honey, cotton, wine, fresh fruit, chocolate and flowers.
Considering I only recently heard about the Fair Trade movement, I initially assumed – albeit erroneously, that the movement was fairly new. It just goes to show that when we think we know it all… we usually don’t. The Fair Trade Movement began in the 1940′s and 1950′s with attempts to commercialize goods in Northern markets (Wikipedia Contributors, 2002). Ten Thousand Villages, a non-governmental organization (NGO) within the Mennonite Central Committee (NCC) and SERRV International were the first to develop fair trade supply chains in developing countries (Wikipedia Contributors, 2002). At that time the products were sold mostly in churches or fairs. However, the famous adage… “you’ve come a long way baby!” is most appropriately applied to the Fair Trade Movement of today. The 1960′s shaped the Movement into a political gesture against neo-imperialism with radical student movements targeting multinational corporations with concerns that traditional business models were flawed. You may remember the slogan that gained a great deal of popularity, “Trade not Aid”.
In 1998, out of the rapid growth of the 1960′s emerged organizations like TransFair USA, “a unique business model that partners industry, farmers, and US consumers to promote equitable trade”. But “Who is TransFair USA and what type of services do they provide?” As stated on their website, TransFair USA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is one of twenty members of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO), and the only third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States. That explains the “WHO”, but not the “WHAT?” Further research revealed that the organization audits transactions between US companies offering Fair Trade Certified™ products and the international suppliers from whom they source, in order to guarantee that the farmers and farm workers behind Fair Trade Certified goods were paid a fair, above-market price.
I’m sure you are wondering, “how does this relate to tea?” TransFair USA offers The Fair Trade Certified Tea and Herb Program which includes products derived from the Tea plant of the Camellia family (Camellia sinensis and/or Camellia assamica), Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis), Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa), and plants in the Mint genus (Mentha), including Peppermint (Mentha piperita) and Spearmint (Mentha spicata). Fair Trade Certified tea was launched in 2001, rooibos in 2005, and chamomile, hibiscus and mint in 2006. There are over 70 FLO-certified tea estates and small-scale producer groups in 11 countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America. This and additional information can be found on their website. Or click HERE to find Fair Trade certified retailers.
Another such organization is the Fair Trade Federation. ”Founded in the late 1970′s, the Fair Trade Federation evolved when individual alternative trade organizations began holding yearly conferences for groups working in fair trade. In 1994, the group incorporated formally as the North American Alternative Trade Organization (NAATO); and, the following year, changed its named to the Fair Trade Federation. Since then, FTF has focused on supporting fully committed businesses in order to expand markets for artisans and farmers around the world.”
Within Fair Trade, there are two types of organizations: Product Certification – TransFair USA and Organizational Evaluation – Fair Trade Federation. Fair Trade Federation is responsible for evaluating organizations for their full commitment to fair trade principles (no matter what kind of product they sell).
If you live outside of North America, fear not, you can get connected with Fair Trade producers, retailers, and organizations through The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO). According to their website, WFTO is the global representative body of over 350 organisations committed to 100% Fair Trade. The WFTO prides itself in being the “authentic voice of Fair Trade and a guardian of Fair Trade values”.
Upon further reading, I learned that WFTO operates in 70 countries across 5 regions, including Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, North American and the Pacific Rim. With elected global and regional boards, WFTO creates market access through policy, advocacy, campaigning, marketing and monitoring. “It is the only global network whose members represent the Fair Trade chain from production to sale.”
The Fair Trade Organizations promote the growth, development, and fair treatment of developing countries around the world. Perhaps next time you make a tea purchase, you’ll be moved to select Certified Fair Trade products.
1. Fair trade. (2009, March 22). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 00:15, March 24, 2009, from
2. Fair Trade Certified. (n.d.). Retrieved 00:15, March 24, 2009, from
3. Fair Trade Federation. (n.d.). Retrieved 00:15, March 24, 2009, from
4. World Fair Trade Organization. (2009, Feruary 9) Retrieved 00:15, March 24, 2009, from