What Is Fairtrade?

FAQs

Find answers to some of the questions that are frequently asked about Fairtrade.

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Buy Local

SOME PEOPLE SAY BUY LOCAL RATHER THAN BUY FAIRTRADE – Is that true?

Many small, independent Canadian businesses rely on global supply chains to produce their goods: the cotton for their shirts, the coconut for their vegan ice cream, the green coffee beans for their speciality roast.

Fairtrade certification allows Canadian companies to know they can trust the source of their ingredients or supplies and helps them build partnerships with farmers, even across the globe.

And looking for the Fairtrade Mark when shopping local allows Canadians to know they’re not just supporting their local economy but also a business model that aligns with their values.

Visit our Fairtrade Local page and support your local businesses

The Fairtrade System

WHY DOESN’T THE FAIRTRADE MARK APPLY TO CANADIAN FARMERS?

The FAIRTRADE Mark was established specifically to support the most disadvantaged producers in the world by using trade as a tool for sustainable development. We do recognize that many farmers in Canada face similar issues as farmers elsewhere, not least ensuring that they get a decent return for upholding social and environmental standards in their production.

However, there are also some major differences. For example, farmers in developing countries often have little infrastructural support, social security systems or other safety nets available if they cannot get a fair price for their products. Our Fairtrade Standards, and our expertise, are specifically focused on enabling producers in developing countries to tackle poverty through trade. If Fairtrade Canada diverted its own attention from this mission, this could potentially end up diluting the benefits of Fairtrade for the very farmers and workers we were established to support.

We agree that the principles behind fair trade may provide useful insight into the debate on improving the situation for Canadian producers. However, Fairtrade Canada is not convinced that a labeling scheme is the right solution to the problems affecting Canadian farmers. A plethora of similar sounding labeling initiatives could result in confusion for consumers and undermine both the local cause and the global situation we care so deeply about.

Rather than yet another label, Fairtrade Canada believes a more rigorous investigation by government and the industry itself is needed. This should look into the causes behind the problems being experienced by domestic producers, so that more robust and wide reaching policy tools can be identified – to benefit all affected farmers, and to reassure all concerned shoppers.

GMOs

WHAT ABOUT GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS

There has been much concern among consumers over GMO crops. Many worry about the risks of environmental contamination and it has been argued that producer dependence on the use of GM seeds could outweigh the benefits of the crops.

The Fairtrade system’s environmental Standards and guidelines currently forbid the use of GM seeds by farmers, and encourage active monitoring in nearby fields. However, it may not always be possible for small farmers to prevent contamination from a neighboring field, and therefore we do not label Fairtrade products as 100% GM free.

Organic

ARE FAIRTRADE CERTIFIED PRODUCTS ALSO ORGANIC?

Not necessarily. Fairtrade Standards require sustainable farming techniques and require higher prices to be paid for organic products. Moreover, Fairtrade Premiums are often used to train producers in organic and sustainable techniques like composting and using recycled materials, which can help them to convert to organic production in the future.

Climate Change

CAN BUYING FAIRTRADE PRODUCTS HELP TO TACKLE CLIMATE CHANGE?

Farmers and workers must meet environmental Standards as part of certification. Producers are required to work to protect the natural environment and make environmental protection a part of farm management. They are also encouraged to minimize the use of energy, especially from non-renewable sources.

By choosing Fairtrade, shoppers in Canada are ensuring that farmers and workers receive a Fairtrade Premium to invest in economic, social and environmental products of their own choice. It means they can implement a range of environmental protection programs which contribute to the range of solutions needed to address climate change and ultimately benefit us all.

For example, tea workers in India have invested some of their Fairtrade Premium into replacing the traditional wood-burning heating with a solar-paneled system. Coffee farmers in Costa Rica have used the premium to replant trees to prevent soil erosion and have invested in environmentally friendly ovens, fueled by recycled coffee hulls and the dried shells of macadamia nuts. This means that they no longer need to cut forest trees and can therefore preserve the rainforest and the oxygen they produce.

By choosing Fairtrade products, you can help farmers and workers preserve their own environment and allow them to have a positive social benefit in their community.

Climate change hits the poorest in developing countries hardest. This includes people whose livelihoods depend on agriculture. Through the Fairtrade Premium, farmers and workers have a little extra to use when harvests fail, or if they need to change to growing a different crop if the climate becomes unsuitable for the way they currently farm.

Climate Change

IS BUYING FAIRTRADE PRODUCTS A GOOD IDEA GIVEN CONCERNS ON CLIMATE CHANGE?

There is no doubt that far-reaching global action has to be taken now to deal with climate change. However if the debate around this issue becomes overly concerned with the question of food miles, this could severely damage opportunities for sustainable forms of export agriculture to contribute to the economic and social development of poor farmers and workers.

Agriculture can play a critical role in the economic and social development of developing countries. In Africa, agriculture is the continent’s number one source of growth

While an international consensus has been reached on the science of climate change, what is now needed is a balanced debate on the best way forward to reduce the impact of climate change while also supporting developing countries in tackling poverty and promoting sustainable development.

Traceability

ARE FAIRTRADE PRODUCTS FULLY TRACEABLE?

For most Fairtrade products including bananas, fresh fruit, coffee, flowers, nuts, rice, spices and others, the Fairtrade system requires these products to be physically traceable. This means they must be labeled and kept separate at every stage of their journey from the farm to the store shelves. However, when we attempted to introduce similar rules for products such as cocoa, sugar, tea and juice, we discovered that there is very little physical traceability in the way these sectors work.

For example, the chocolate industry is currently not always able to keep Fairtrade cocoa and non-Fairtrade cocoa separate at every stage of production from the cocoa field to the final bar. Cocoa beans are delivered in bulk by farmers and routinely mixed during shipping and in the manufacturing process.

Rather than ruling out these sectors and losing Fairtrade sales opportunities for thousands of small farmers, Fairtrade has set up a system to ensure that manufacturers that want to use the FAIRTRADE Mark must buy the precise amount of produce they need from Fairtrade farmers that will be used in their final product. This system is known as ‘mass balance’.

So, if a chocolate bar manufacturer uses 550 tons of cocoa, then the manufacturer must purchase 550 tons of cocoa on Fairtrade terms, including the payment of an additional $200 Fairtrade Premium per metric ton. This means that even if the beans are later mixed with non-Fairtrade beans, as often happens, Fairtrade cocoa farmers still get 100% of the benefits.

Our mission is to support farmers and workers in the developing world to increase their share in global trade. Fairtrade’s stringent inspection and audit system is in place to ensure the amount of Fairtrade product manufactured exactly matches the amount of Fairtrade product purchased.

Fairtrade Ingredients

HOW DOES FAIRTRADE LABELING WORK WITH COMPOSITE PRODUCTS?

Many Fairtrade products, such as coffee, tea, flowers, sugar and rice are 100% Fairtrade. However there are other products, such as cosmetics, ice cream and chocolate, in which the ingredients are a mixture of Fairtrade ingredients from developing countries (such as sugar, cocoa, shea butter and vanilla) and ingredients sourced more locally from domestic farmers (such as milk, flour or eggs). These are known as ‘composite products’.

Fairtrade Canada has developed requirements for where and how the FAIRTRADE Mark may be used based on Fairtrade International policy.  The main principles of these requirements are:

  • 100% of any ingredient that can be Fairtrade certified, must be Fairtrade certified.
  • Any product may carry the FAIRTRADE Mark if more than 50% of its total ingredients (calculated by dry weight) are sourced from Fairtrade certified producer organizations.
  • If the total Fairtrade certified ingredient content is less than 50%, the product may still be eligible if it has one significant Fairtrade ingredient that represents more than 20% of the product’s dry weight. An example of a significant ingredient might be an orange juice drink made of 20% Fairtrade certified orange juice and the rest water.