Our Role in the Fair Trade Movement

Learn more about our distinct role in the fair trade movement and how we relate to other fair trade organizations.

The origin of Fair Trade USA

Fair trade is a global movement made up of a diverse network of producers, companies, shoppers, advocates, and organizations working together to build a more equitable model of trade. The term "fair trade" is not specific to any one organization or certifying body.

The fair trade movement began to take shape in the years following World War II as a way to connect marginalized producers to global markets. One of the movement's key pioneers was Edna Ruth Byler, an American businesswoman who, in 1946, was moved by the women artisans she encountered along her travels and began selling their handmade textiles to her friends and neighbors to help them earn a living. Out of this grew Ten Thousand Villages and a global fair trade movement.

Coffee bore the world's first fair trade mark in 1988, and over the next ten years, fair trade certification took off to include more products and countries. Ten years later, in 1998, we founded Fair Trade USA. What started as a partnership with a handful of rural farmers and mission-driven coffee companies has since grown to become the leading certifier of fair trade products in North America with more than 1,250 business partners.

We are guided by a team of leaders, Board of Directors, and Advisory Council that is united under our mission to alleviate global poverty and promote sustainable development. Together with our committed business partners, philanthropic partners, and brands, we are innovating the fair trade model and driving impact for farmers, workers, and fishermen worldwide.

Get a glimpse into our story and milestones in the last 21 years.

Fair Trade Certified products are certified according to a robust system relying on independent, third-party evaluation and certification to hold businesses accountable to their fair trade commitments.

Fair Trade USA is also the home of Fair Trade Campaigns, a grassroots advocacy program that promotes multiple fair trade labels and systems in the US. Fair Trade Campaigns recognizes and promotes third-party certification and verification systems, including the Fair Trade Federation and the Fairtrade International, through its 300+ local, community- and campus-level efforts.

Our history in the international Fairtrade system

Fair Trade USA was a member of Fairtrade International—the international Fairtrade system made up of Fairtrade International and 19 national member organizations—for 13 years.  During that time, we held roles on various Fairtrade Committees, and our CEO, Paul Rice, served on the Fairtrade International Board. As a member, Fair Trade USA was one of the top contributors, contributing millions of dollars a year to the system.

In 2012, we separated from Fairtrade International with the objective of growing the impact of the fair trade movement to new products, geographies, and producers around the world.

After separating in 2012, Fair Trade USA implemented a Producer Recognition Program that enabled producer organizations certified by FLOCERT (the single certifier for the Fairtrade International system) to continue selling their products to our affiliated buyers in the US. To support this program, we signed a data sharing agreement with FLOCERT for transaction and impact information from producer organizations. In turn, we helped fund Fairtrade International’s Monitoring & Evaluation data collection.

We also partnered with Fairtrade International, CLAC (the coordinating group for all fair trade producer organizations in Latin America), and others to support producers and facilitate market access to the US.

In May 2020, the service agreement with FLOCERT was terminated. We no longer have a formal relationship with FLOCERT or Fairtrade International.  We continue to explore areas of collaboration in order to meet market and producer needs.  Fair Trade USA also continues to recognize FLOCERT certificates, allowing certified producers to sell to our affiliated buyers in the US.

Fairtrade International and Fair Trade USA share a common mission to empower farmers and workers around the world to enable sustainable development for themselves and their communities.  Many of the producers that sell fair trade products to Fair Trade USA affiliated buyers in the US also sell products to Fairtrade International buyers.

What makes Fair Trade USA different?

Fair Trade USA believes that all farmers and workers should have the opportunity to participate in the fair trade system, including workers employed by larger farms and farmers that are not part of organized cooperatives. In addition, Fair Trade USA works with farmers and workers in the Global North, including the US.

As a result, Fair Trade USA has expanded to certify more than 30 product categories, including quinoa, fresh produce, apparel, home goods, and seafood. In 2019, producers earned an additional $130 million through your purchases of those Fair Trade Certified products.

Today, we are leading the movement into the future by investing in technological innovation to elevate the transparency and traceability of our certified supply chains. We'll announce more details in the coming months about this initiative, which will create new value for all stakeholders in the global fair trade community, helping to accelerate growth and impact for farmers, workers, and their communities.  

Who we are

Why fair trade?