The Fairtrade movement

What is Fairtrade?

It is a global initiative offering an alternative approach to conventional commerce, promoting sustainability and development through trade. The aim is to ensure ethical trade with developing countries so that they receive a fairer price for their produce. Direct trading partnerships are established with producers, omitting middlemen, and enabling the sharing of knowledge and information on production and market and quality requirements.

Although the concept was conceived more than 40 years ago, it was only really developed in the 1980’s. Worldwide standards and certification were established in 1997, and the Fairtrade Certification Mark launched in 2002. The Faitrade Label South Africa (FLSA) was introduced in 2009.

Fairtrade certification mark


How does Fairtrade work?

There are two sets of Fairtrade Standards, one for smallholders working together in co-operatives, and one for commercial farms/plantations employing permanent labourers. The standards cover labour rights, as well as environmental issues.

When a buyer purchases a Fairtrade certified product, he pays an agreed Fairtrade Premium in addition to the crop price. Small farmers and farmworkers then use this money for projects to improve the lives of their communities, such as schools, healthcare, better equipment, training, etc. In the case of commercial farms, the money goes into an account owned by the workers, to be utilized for similar purposes.

Fairtrade minimum price

This is a floor price which is crucial to small-scale farmers when world market prices plummet (buyers pay the Fairtrade Minimum Price or the market price – whichever is higher). The Minimum Price takes into account the costs of sustainable production and living, as well as the costs of complying with Fairtrade Standards.


Which products are covered by Fairtrade Standards?

Bibs, brooches, chopping boards, cosmetics, furniture, jewelry, handbags, lamps, laptop sleeves, sneakers, soap, sports balls,  textiles, and agricultural produce bananas, cocoa, coffee, cotton, flowers, fresh fruit, honey, juices, rice, quinoa, nuts, herbs and spices, tea, sugar and wine – also ‘composite products’ such as chocolate (use of Fairtrade cocoa + sugar). Recently, Fairtrade has introduced standards for gold from small-scale mining operations, and pilot projects are underway for fish and timber.

Clearly Fairtrade impacts on the fashion industry through a number of products, not least of which is cotton.

Fairtrade cotton is produced in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, India, Mali and Senegal, among others. In Mali, farmers are now receiving a price up to 70% higher than in the conventional market. Like other Fairtrade certification standards, that for cotton encourages certified producers to diversify their crops, both for their own food security and to allow the soil to recover.

Based in India and comprising of some 20 000 farmers, Agrocel  grows organic Fairtrade cotton, even offering to provide the type and quality of cotton that a manufacturer may need for any special use. They are the suppliers to British clothing label People Tree.  Agrocel has 12 service centers staffed with technicians who assist farmers in organic production.

Fairtrade in the Fashion Industry

In 2010, the Fair Trade Fashion Network was launched in the UK to spread awareness of Fair Trade in fashion and to involve industry in this strive.  Fair Trade pioneers such as People Tree, Gossypium, Bishopton Trading, Epona, Pachacuti and Fairly Covered lead this initiative. Since 2006, London Fashion Week has featured a dedicated exhibition devoted to eco and Fairtrade clothing.


December 1, 2010, saw the introduction of the first US certification for Fairtrade apparel. At that stage there were five American clothing brands offering sustainable fashion, with another six in the pipeline.

The message is spreading.

To mark the fifth anniversary of Fairtrade Cotton, renowned British photographer Trevor Leighton teamed up with the Fairtrade Foundation to produce a collection of photographs showing off the very best of the Fairtrade Cotton range. Here are some of the images.

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Hoots, C. (2010, December 1). Fair Trade USA Tackles Fashion and Cotton Industry.

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Fairtrade certification mark [image]. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2012 from

Trevor Leighton/Fairtrade Photoshoot [images]. (2010). Retrieved March 28, 2012 from