Who We Are

Our mission

Fair Trade USA enables sustainable development and community empowerment by cultivating a more equitable global trade model that benefits farmers, workers, fishermen, consumers, industry, and the earth. We achieve our mission by certifying and promoting Fair Trade products.

Our story

It all started when a one-way ticket to Nicaragua in the summer of 1983 turned into an 11-year stay. During that time, Fair Trade USA founder Paul Rice helped recruit 24 brave coffee farmers to agree to sell their coffee on Fair Trade terms. The outcome was astounding. After the first harvest that year, farmers received a dramatically higher income, enabling them to invest in homes, electricity, and running water—things they had previously been unable to afford. Over the next few years, Paul witnessed what would come to be known as the Fair Trade Difference unfold in the lives of coffee farmers in Nicaragua as that group of 24 farmers grew to include more than 3,000 families. This life-changing experience led him to return to the United States and launch Fair Trade USA in 1998. 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. 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. In 2016, the sale of Fair Trade Certified™ products in the U.S. reached an estimated $6 billion. That same year, we certified the first farm in the U.S.—a milestone in the Fair Trade movement that has and will continue to improve the livelihoods and working conditions of thousands of migrant farmworker families.


The success of core products like coffee has attracted pioneering brands and retailers in other industries including apparel, home goods, and fisheries. Together, we are innovating the Fair Trade model to expand impact to new communities. Fair Trade products are available online and in grocery stores throughout North America, with a growing network including more than 1,250 companies committed to a world-changing way of doing business. Most importantly, we have generated cumulative impact of $551 million in additional income for farmers and workers worldwide.


We are truly grateful to everyone in the Fair Trade movement – farmers, workers, companies, consumers, philanthropists, and activists – for partnering to grow the impact of Fair Trade. Together, we are writing the next chapter of the Fair Trade Difference.

Over the Years

  1. 1998

    TransFair USA (now Fair Trade USA) opens its doors in Oakland, California. Paul Rice is named President and CEO.

  2. 1999

    TransFair USA begins certifying Fair Trade coffee.

  3. 2001

    Seattle-based Choice Organic Teas becomes the first tea brand in the United States to offer Fair Trade Certified™ teas.

  4. 2002

    The United States Fair Trade market expands to include Fair Trade Certified™ hot cocoa mix and chocolate bars in the wake of world cocoa prices hitting record lows and media exposing rampant child labor on West African cocoa farms. CostPlus World Market begins selling a line of dark, white, and milk chocolate bars in its 190 stores throughout the country.

    Cacao-growing cooperatives representing 42,000 farmers in Belize, Bolivia, Cameroon, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ghana, and Nicaragua begin benefitting from Fair Trade certification.

  5. 2003

    Honest Tea launches Peach Oo-La-Long, the first bottled tea to ever use Fair Trade Certified™ tea leaves and their most popular flavor on the West Coast that year. Sales of Fair Trade Certified tea reach $85,000 in additional income for farming families in India, Sri Lanka, China, and Vietnam.

  6. 2004

    Fair Trade expands into the produce section. As covered by the New York Times, in 2004 alone, TransFair USA certifies more than 8 million pounds of organic bananas from Ecuador, 470,000 pounds of Costa Rican pineapples, 100,000 pounds of mangoes from Mexico and Peru, and 9,000 pounds of grapes from South Africa.

  7. 2005

    Costco, Sam's Club and select McDonald's begin selling Fair Trade Certified™ coffees, moving Fair Trade into the mainstream. Fair Trade Certified coffee sales top 44 million pounds.

    Fair Trade Certified rice and sugar hit the United States market for the first time. Vanilla is soon to follow.

  8. 2006

    On July 8, 2006, the small town of Media, Pennsylvania declares itself the first Fair Trade Town in the United States.

    TransFair USA receives Fast Company’s annual Social Capitalist Award for the third year in a row.

  9. 2007

    United States retail sales of Fair Trade Certified™ products surpass $1 billion.

  10. 2008

    Whole Foods, Sam's Club, and Target launch the first Fair Trade Certified™ wine in the United States. Honey—launched by Wholesome Sweeteners—and flowers follow close behind.

    CEO Paul Rice joins President Bill Clinton addressing the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting and closes with a public commitment to launch Fair Trade cotton and apparel.

  11. 2010

    TransFair USA changes its name to Fair Trade USA and launches the first ethical apparel certification label in the United States.

  12. 2011

    Fair Trade USA parts ways with Fair Trade International and announces Fair Trade for All, a vision to double the impact of Fair Trade for farmers and workers by 2015.

  13. 2012

    The newly-redesigned Fair Trade Certified™ seal hits store shelves in Canada and the United States.

  14. 2013

    Fair Trade USA certifies the first coconut supply chain of 1,200 farmers in southern Luzon, Philippines to bring Fair Trade coconut water to the United States.

  15. 2014

    West Elm becomes the first home retailer to join Fair Trade USA, with a product assortment that has since grown to include rugs, bedding, and furniture.

  16. 2015

    Mission accomplished! The Fair Trade for All vision to double Fair Trade’s impact for farmers and workers between 2011 and 2015 is met and exceeded. Between 2011 and 2015, Fair Trade’s impact grew from $79 million to $203 million.

    Safeway and Fair Trade USA announce a partnership to launch Fair Trade Certified™ seafood into the North American market to bring the benefits of Fair Trade to small scale fishermen and their communities.

  17. 2016

    Fair Trade USA certifies the first Fair Trade Certified™ farm in the United States, Wholesum Harvest in southern Arizona.

  18. 2017

    For the first year ever, Fair Trade Community Development Funds surpass record-breaking $50 million in a single year.


Fair Trade USA is guided by a diverse team of leaders who are united under our mission to alleviate global poverty and promote sustainable development.

Senior Management

Board of Directors

Advisory Council

Work at Fair Trade USA

From our headquarters in Oakland, California, to farms, factories, and fisheries worldwide, we’re making big, measurable differences with our global perspective and hard work.