Fair Trade and Organic Cotton

“Every business transaction is a challenge to see that both parties come out fairly”– Adam Smith, 1759

Fair Trade and Organic Cotton



The Fair Trade Federation is the trade association that strengthens and promotes North American organizations fully committed to fair trade. The Federation is part of the global fair trade movement, building equitable and sustainable trading partnerships and creating opportunities to alleviate poverty

In 1998, four European organizations created a widely accepted definition of Fair Trade. Fairtrade Labeling Organizations created a workgroup known as FINE and defined Fair Trade as: a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, disadvantaged producers and workers.

Fair Trade basically means the exchange of goods based on principles of economic and social justice.

The two most widely recognized ways of identifying Fair Trade are organizational recognition and product certification. With organizational recognition, a trading organization is approved as Fair Trade. For these traders, almost every item they sell is a Fair Trade product. Not only are producers treated fairly through fair prices and social premiums, but other practices of the trading relationship are conducted in concert with Fair Trade values and goals.

There are predominantly two third-party associations that recognize Fair Trade organizations in North America: the Fair Trade Federation (FTF) ftf  in North America and the international World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO). They have similar criteria, stated by FTF as these 9 principles:

  1. Create Opportunities for Economically & Socially Marginalized Producers: Fair Trade is a strategy for poverty alleviation & sustainable development.
  2. Develop Transparent & Accountable Relationships: Fair Trade involves relationships that are open, fair, consistent & respectful.
  3. Build Capacity: Fair Trade is a means to develop producers’ independence.
  4. Promote Fair Trade: Fair Trade encourages an understanding by all participants of their role in world trade.
  5. Pay Promptly & Fairly: Fair Trade empowers producers to set prices within the framework of the true costs of labor time, materials, sustainable growth & related factors.
  6. Support Safe & Empowering Working Conditions: Fair Trade means a safe & healthy working environment free of forced labor.
  7. Ensure the Rights of Children: Fair Trade means that all children have the right to security, education & play.
  8. Cultivate Environmental Stewardship: Fair Trade seeks to offer current generations the ability to meet their needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
  9. Respect Cultural Identity: Fair Trade celebrates the cultural diversity of communities, while seeking to create positive & equitable change.

Under product certification, every individual Fair Trade product must be labeled with a Fair Trade mark. At present there are 3 widely recognized marks, and a few minor marks, in the U.S. and Canada:


The “Fair Trade Certified” system is administered by Fairtrade International (FI), based in Germany. FI authorizes a labeling initiative in consumer countries to administer the label. FI’s labeling initiative in the U.S. was Fair Trade USA (renamed from TransFair USA in 2010) until 2011. In Canada, it’s Fairtrade Canada (renamed from TransFair Canada in 2010). Most certified products are agricultural products, such as coffee, tea, cocoa & chocolate, sugar, rice, and more. Pilot certifications in apparel and gold were launched in recent years.

All product certifications include these principles:

Fair prices, Fair & safe labor conditions, Direct trade, Democratic and transparent organizations, Community development, Environmental sustainability.

Fair Trade and Organic Cotton are based on same holistic principal. The aim of organic agriculture is to serve mankind in developing a most sustainable kind of agriculture: starting point is a healthy and living soil, the basis for healthy plants and animals, all aiming to produce quality food and at the same time taking care of the environment. But the concept is not ending at the production level: processing and labeling is defined as well as the exclusion of Genetic Engineering and criteria for Social Justice within agriculture. The latter means it is not consistent with organic agriculture to treat nature and animals as friends but to violate the rights of the farm workers, small farmers etc. or to exploit producers at the same time.

Both Fair Trade and Organic Cotton concepts belong together. The well being of humans is to be considered as main priority of both concepts: to allow a sustainable development for all parties involved in the process. Both, organic agriculture and fair trade are including this holistic approach in their standards and criteria.

From the producers perspective the two concepts belong together, because they use similar questionnaires for inspection and could easily save manpower in working together more closely.

Organic labels are not a guarantee of fair prices or working conditions, as they focus on the ecological impacts of production.

A Fair Trade label does not guarantee a product is organic, as it looks predominantly at rights of workers/farmers.

Fairtrade and organic complement each other perfectly. Combining the two is a way of strengthening the position of farming families socially and environmentally as well as supporting their development efforts

Fairtrade organic cotton provides an added guarantee that farmers have received a price that covers the minimum cost of production, and similarly requires independent verification of production standards – at present about 19% of Fairtrade cotton is organically produced.

The Organic Cotton Initiative” a joint Soil Association and GOTS (Global Organic Trade Association) campaigns:


Main image courtesy: http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/en/buying-fairtrade/cotton/people-tree


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