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Building the Fair Trade movement via Healthy and Honest Debate
What’s in a Name? What constitutes a Fair Trade Certified product?

Our organization was recently renamed Fair Trade USA, a change that has received almost entirely positive responses from consumers, business partners, NGOs and other stakeholders.  The reason for our name change is simplewhen we increase awareness of fair trade, we provide more impact in terms of additional income and community investment dollars to the farmers and workers whom we serve.  For example, from 2005 to 2010, Fair Trade awareness quadrupled to 34 percent among American consumers.  In the same period, additional income to producer communities more than tripled, reaching $48 million in 2010 alone.   Our former name (TransFair USA) was unclear and few people knew what it meant.  Fair Trade USA is simply a clearer description of the work we do.


Of course no change is made without differing opinions.  Some in the Fair Trade movement have accused us of trying to “brand” or even control the entire Fair Trade movement.  That is simply not our intent, so it’s important to share a few key points: 

  • We agree that Fair Trade is a movement, not a brand, and that no one can trademark Fair Trade.  We are proud to be part of the Fair Trade movement, all working together to help to build public awareness around the importance of making purchases based on Fair Trade principles.
  • We provide significant financial support to the broader movement.  For example, last year we raised $1 million to support the Fair Trade Towns USA campaign, a multi-stakeholder initiative in which we share leadership with the Fair Trade Federation, the Fair Trade Resource Network, and other stakeholders in the movement.  We also were one of the sponsors of the Fair Trade Futures conference, have participated in several webinars with the Fair Trade Resource Network, and conduct a multi-stakeholder campaign for national Fair Trade Awareness Month each October.
  • Our name change is consistent with the new naming convention for all other national affiliates of Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO), which recently changed its name to Fairtrade International. Shortly, all national certifiers affiliated with FLO will change their names to “Fairtrade Country-name.”
  • At Fair Trade USA, we will continue to focus our efforts on increasing sales of Fair Trade Certified™ products, using the same rigorous social, environmental and economic standards to certify all products that earn the right to bear this mark.  We’ve been using the Fair Trade Certified label for 12 years, and in that time our partners have returned over $220 million in additional income to farmers and workers around the world. The Fair Trade Certified label will not change.

There is also healthy debate in the movement on what constitutes a Fair Trade product.  Some believe that only companies with 100% of their products sourced as Fair Trade should get to label anything “Fair Trade.”  Others believe that only products with 100% Fair Trade formulations should be called “Fair Trade.”  While these sentiments may seem noble, we consider that the impact provided by these more narrow definitions is limited.  We believe the collective role of the Fair Trade movement is to empower and improve the lives of as many hardworking farmers and workers as possible, and our product labeling is in line with that goal.

At Fair Trade USA our definition is simple.  For a product to bear our Fair Trade Certified label, all the ingredients in that product that can be certified Fair Trade will be.  Of course, sometimes all the ingredients are not Fair Trade Certified, and when that happens, it’s for good reason.  For example, in many cosmetics the primary ingredient is water!  But while the average Fair Trade cosmetic contains about 40 percent Fair Trade Certified ingredients, the exact amount depends upon our partner’s formulation.  If their formula contains ingredients that are available as Fair Trade Certified, then our partner will incorporate that Fair Trade supply into their product.  And it goes without saying that these products must be labeled “Made with Fair Trade Certified Ingredients” to distinguish them from other products, like coffee, where the entire product is Fair Trade Certified.   

In summary, Fair Trade USA is part of a movement to empower farmers and workers around the world to improve their standard of living in ways that are economically and environmentally sustainable.  At Fair Trade USA we do this by getting more companies to sell—and more consumers to buy—Fair Trade Certified products.  We recognize that others have differing approaches. To that end, we welcome honest, open debate around solutions to continue supporting the farmers and workers whom we serve.

Questions?  Thoughts?  Ideas to improve the movement?  Contact us at