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Fair Trade Labels Look to Replicate Organic's Success

Fair Trade Labels Look to Replicate Organic's Success

October 9, 2007 —

When concerns over the deleterious effects of pesticides and hormones drove many Americans to go organic in the 1990s, many consumer advocates worried about the lack of explicit standards for what could and could not be labeled "organic." In response, the USDA created a "Certified Organic" label in 2002, which for the first time ensured that even less than vigilant consumers could be confident in the quality of the organic products they were paying more for.

The growing demand for ethical products has a lot in common with the organic food boom of a decade ago, including the difficultly ethical consumers face in figuring out which products actually live up to their lofty expectations. But while it is extremely unlikely that a government agency is going to create a similar set of guidelines for "ethical products"  anytime soon, independent certifiers like TransFair USA are stepping in to fill the void. For consumers, this means the ability to match each "fair trade" label to a set of standards. For Rafael de Paiva, an independent Brazilian coffee grower, it means the opportunity to earn a 20 percent premium on his beans if he can prove that his operation meets TransFair's criteria. Mr.  Paiva told the New Yok Times that the fair trade business "helped us create a decent living."

Demand for these products is increasingly dramatically (the market grew 42 percent to $2.2 Billion in 2006,) and big business is starting to take notice. Sam's Club, Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds have all recently begun carrying fair trade coffees, and Starbucks has seen sales of their fair trade blends rise annually. As long as consumer awareness of labor and environmental issues continues to spur growth in this market, there's no reason not to expect fair trade labels to be just as ubiquitous in the American grocery store of 2017 as those little green "USDA Certified Organic" labels are today.

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