Our 2016 Almanac
Founded in 1998, Fair Trade USA is the leading 501(c) (3) nonprofit, third-party certifier and promoter of Fair Trade products in North America. Our mission is to enable sustainable development and community empowerment by cultivating a more equitable global trade model that benefits farmers, workers, consumers, industry and the earth.
For the past 18 years, Fair Trade USA has worked to increase the market access, linkage, and impact of responsibly sourced agricultural products and factory-made goods, directly benefiting millions of farmers, workers and families all over the world and establishing the Fair Trade Certified™ seal as a respected and reliable brand for informed consumer choices.
In 1998, after a decade of organizing farming cooperatives in Nicaragua, I returned to the U.S. to help launch the Fair Trade Certified™ seal. We were a small but mighty group, working in partnership with a handful of brave farmers and a few mission driven coffee companies who were out to change the world.
Our one-room converted warehouse in Oakland (which we fondly refer to as our first global headquarters) wasn’t much, but it was the beginning of something powerful. We had a vision, and it was bold. Some people called us crazy, because we actually believed that rural farmers and workers around the world could learn to navigate the global market and empower themselves on a journey out of poverty. We believed that business could be a major force for change, creating “shared value” and a better life for farming families. We envisioned consumers awakening to their power to choose a better world through their everyday purchases. In short, we had faith that the Fair Trade movement would become part of a much larger shift toward Conscious Capitalism.
Today, Fair Trade has grown into a leading market-based model of sustainable production, trade and consumption and is approaching an inflection point. In 2016, the sale of Fair Trade Certified™ products in the U.S. reached an estimated $6 billion. More than 1,200 leading brands and retailers sell Fair Trade products. Consumer awareness of our seal rose to 67%. Most important, we have generated cumulative impact of $441 million in additional income for farmers and workers in more than 70 countries. That means that every dollar we’ve spent building the Fair Trade market has generated $4 in impact for the hardworking families whom we serve. This “social return on investment” is truly unprecedented.
The success of core products like coffee has attracted visionaries in other industries. Together, we are innovating the Fair Trade model to expand impact to new communities. Some highlights:
In 2016, we certified the first farm in the United States. This milestone builds on our successful produce partnerships with leading retailers like Whole Foods and Costco in Latin America, which have improved the livelihoods and working conditions of thousands of migrant farmworker families.
Our fisheries initiative, launched in partnership with Albertsons Companies, is growing fast. We now certify tuna, shrimp and scallop fishermen in four countries, ensuring better labor practices and environmental stewardship.
Apparel & Home Goods
The Fair Trade Apparel and Home Goods program grew 66% in 2016, thanks to the support of visionary brands like Patagonia, West Elm, PrAna and Athleta. These pioneering companies are leveraging Fair Trade to empower and engage factory workers in Asia and Latin America.
In my travels, I’ve seen the profound impact these initiatives have on families and communities. Recently, I visited a pineapple farm in Costa Rica where, thanks to Fair Trade certification, the farmworkers receive a five-cent premium on every pineapple. These remarkable workers voted to save their premiums for four years until they had enough funds to build a community center. Their dream is now reality: their new center offers free classes in adult literacy, household finance, English, computer skills and even motorcycle maintenance. This story reaffirms my belief that Fair Trade means empowerment: with the right support, marginalized farmers and workers are planning, saving, investing and improving their own lives on their own terms. Fair Trade also empowers each of us as consumers to make the world better, one pineapple and one nickel at a time.
We are truly grateful to everyone in the Fair Trade movement – farmers, workers, companies, consumers, philanthropists, activists – for partnering to grow the impact of Fair Trade. Together, we are writing a new chapter in the age of Conscious Capitalism.
Paul Rice, President & CEO