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Fair Trade: News & Updates

News Article

In November 2021, the Corporate Accountability Lab (CAL), in coalition with the Fair World Project (FWP), filed a lawsuit against the Hershey candy company as well as the certification label Rainforest Alliance. The consumer protection case suit was filed in the DC Superior Court, after CAL found cases of (forced) child labor, exploitive labor and wage theft at a number of Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa farms in West-African producing for Hershey. In the suit CAL and FWP accuse Rainforest Alliance and Hershey of false and deceptive marketing on some of their chocolate products. They bring forward the fact that labels like the Rainforest Alliance let consumers believe that the labeled merchandise is produced free from child labor, wage theft and environmental destruction. On many of the farms this is not true, and the lack of a living wage paid to the workers leads to a circle in which families have to rely on their children to work to keep themselves fed.

These working conditions have deep roots in corporate greed, a phenomenon that overweighs any ethics. The lower the price for the base product is, the more profit can be generated. In case of Hershey and the Rainforest Alliance. this greed shows its worst. In an effort to appeal to today's more aware consumers, companies cooperate with labels to distract from inhumane production conditions. This way labels and networks like Rainforest Alliance not only trick the consumers but also fail the workers who should be protected by them. 

Now, after almost 1.5 years, a key point was reached in the case on March 23, 2023. After dragging out the case, the defendants now filed a motion to dismiss it, arguing that Hershey as well as Rainforest Alliance already acknowledged the problems in their production chain. In a statement Hershey acknowledged "the existence of child labor and high deforestation rates" in the farming of cocoa beans, and stated that it is not guilty of false advertising since it "publicly acknowledged these challenges" and  that its claims are strictly "aspirational in nature." It gets even more absurd with Rainforest Alliance's excuse for child labor under its label. It stated that it never claimed that the label meant that certified farms are free from human rights and environmental abuse. Rainforest Alliance made clear that the seal "represents [Rainforest Alliance's] vision of sustainability as a journey of continuous improvement." It is clear though that this is not what consumers think the Rainforest Alliance label means.

In the end, false labels like Rainforest Alliance's do far more harm than good. A label means very little if human rights standards are still disregarded and farmers are under paid or don't even know about the certification. To actually end human rights and environmental abuses in farming and production, labeling organizations would not only need to pay fair wages but also create community based monitoring systems and long-term contracts with small, individual farms. Rainforest Alliance does none of this. 

In the end, the lawsuit's main goal is it to shine a light on this misbehavior and  to hold companies accountable for their actions and lies.  

News Article

The following article by the long time fair trade activist Kim Lamberty gives insight into the challenges Fair Trade businesses and producers face in a world run on profits and competition. In her years as an organizer and as the founder of the coffee non-profit "Just Haiti," Kim was confronted with a number of difficulties, one of which is pricing. As a fair trade business, Just Haiti requires paying  producers a living wage which can support them and their families. This ambition is hard to retain on a commodity market that keeps the price for a pound of coffee down at $1.90. For Just Haiti and other fair trade businesses that pay high enough to sustain small farms, it means they have to operate as a non-profit with volunteer labor outside of production. In addition to the low prices, rising inflation puts heavy pressure on producers and fair trade businesses.

While one might think that a rise in commodity prices would help farmers to sell their products at higher profits and lift them out of their fatal financial position, that is only partly true. Since most of the farmers living under the poverty line spend most their earnings on food and other utilities for their families, the higher commodity prices come back around and pull even more people into poverty. This exploitation of working families and the ongoing impoverishment becomes especially disgusting when taking into account the fact that quarterly profits in the U.S. non-financial sector have skyrocketed. Within the last two years, profits went up by more than 80%, adding up to a profit of $2 trillion in the 3rd quarter of 2022. To make such a rise in profits possible, corporations increase their prices under the veil of commodity prices, in many cases even surpassing the increase in production and commodity costs.

This kind of behavior by international corporations make it evident that there is more to the struggle for fair business trading than most people expect. If change is to come, production and prices of these goods have to be rethought. The first step is holding corporations accountable for the treatment of their workers as well as cutting dividends for investors as well as salaries and bonuses for CEO's. But it's not all on the businesses. For years, consumer pressure has kept prices low, keeping producers in poverty and actively depressing wages. It is apparent that these systematic problems require a systematic solution. 

To change this inequality, all of us can take measures. We need to organize and educate ourselves as well as our communities on ways to support those who struggle and oppose corporate greed. We can invest and buy from companies paying fair wages. We can make sure not to buy from companies with exploitive off-shore contractors, and we can support non-profits like the Quixote Center, which invest in small partner businesses in Haiti. The Quixote Center additionally works to invest national aid dollars into small community-based businesses to keep profits within these communities and out of the hands of exploitive corporations.  

As conscious people, we all must stand up against corporate crimes against workers, communities and the planet!

News Article

Today the buzz-phrase Fair Trade is omnipresent. With the rise of consumer awareness, our stores are flooded with Fair Trade labeled products. No matter whether it's organic farmer collectives or multi-billion dollar corporations like Nestlé or Unilever, everyone is looking to get a slice of the cake that is the Fair Trad market. But far too often, it might be a scam.

With the establishment of Fair Trade International in 1997, a number of environmental and labor standards were set and had to be fulfilled in order to be Fair Trade certified. The production and trade must be,

  • sustainable
  • free from environmental exploitation  
  • free from exploitive labor
  • free from child labor
  • free from forced labor 

Since the introduction of Fair Trade International, new certification labels have been shooting out of the ground, many with far lower standards than Fair Trade International. This includes, for example, some of the most popular labels like the Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade USA and Fair for Life. On many farms certified by these organizations, the working conditions and wages are indistinguishable from those of non-certified farms. Today it seems like none of the original standards are actually a necessity for a certification anymore. In 2022 an especially dramatic case of abuse came to the light 0f day. A Rainforest Alliance certified farm was found to use child labor in the process of harvesting and farming. Adding on to such malpractices is the fact that many workers are not even aware if their farm is "Fair Trade certified." Without the knowledge about the standards that should be upheld by certified farms, farm workers have little to no base on which they can speak out against the widespread exploitation. Exploitive labor, wage theft, child labor and hazardous working conditions are just as common on many farms certified by these and other Fair Trade label providers. 

As the popularity of Fair Trade labeled products increased, international corporations--in the hope of appealing to the more aware consumer base--began developing their on labels. These corprate labels often set the bar even lower than the Rainforest Alliance, etc. This sea of Fair Trade labels makes it increasingly more difficult for companies sticking to the Fair Trade International standards to keep up with the cheaper, mass produced competitive products. Furthermore, they lead to confusion among costumers overwhelmed by the sheer amount of different certifications. 

On top of costumer fishing, Fair Trade labels provide a number of other advantages to corporations. It allows an increase of pricing for newly-certified products, provides an image improvement, and green-washes the companies' labor and environmental exploitation. Over the years, consumers have made clear that they are more driven towards ethical products. This development has led to fair trade being used in public relation campaigns by corporations pretending to produce ethically. 

With this watering down of fair trade standards, more and more experts and activists criticize that:

  • standards among the labels are not equal, leading to the acceptance of child labor on certified farms.
  • the auditing is often sporadic or even non existent. In some industries, the inspections are carried out by the same companies who buy and resell the farmed goods. These companies often tend to certify farms as a means to rise the resale price. 
  • even if auditing takes place, it often fails to find abuses. For farms, it is far too easy to hide wrongdoing like child labor or wage theft. The inspections are especially bad at detecting if workers have paid recruitment fees. This is a common procedure to trap workers in debt and often is evidence of forced labor, as the workers are required to clear their debt before being able to look for a less abusive workplace. 
  • workers and farmers have little to no input on the implementation of fair trade standards. Till today, Fair Trade International is the only label provider that includes workers on their boards. In comparison, Fair Trade USA and the Rainforest Alliance boards are exclusively made up of corporate representatives. 

Overall, it is indisputable that the labeling and auditing industry has grown immensely over the last years and is pulling in massive profits. As long as Fair Trade labeling is not led by the affected work force, the vast majority of fair trade labels will remain as profit-generating tools for greedy corporations. 


News Article

5,087,500 avocados grown by 75 small scale farmers in Michocán, Mexico, supplying 500 food co-ops and grocery stores in the US. Economic impact: $4,532,500 paid to small-scale farmer co-ops. 

32,554,480 bananas grown by 873 small scale famers in Ecuador and Peru, supplying 450 food co-ops and grocery stores in the US. Economic impact: $5,229,063 paid to small-scale farmer co-ops. 

News Article

There is no sustainability if farmers and workers live in poverty. Decent livelihoods are the foundation for farming communities to be able to tackle issues like child labor and deforestation. Fairtrade producers and partners have joined forces to lead the way on living income, living wages, and opportunities for women and young people. Fairtrade International's annual report outlines the challenges facing our global community, our strategy for addressing those challenges and our impact in 2021.

News Article

The FAIR TRADE CAMPAINGNS just launched their most recent newsletter. 

In it, the Fair Trade Campaign tackles topics like the Fair Trade Finals, a program that sends goodie kits with fair trade products to schools for sales, raffles or other end of semester events. 

November is not only known as the month in which the troubling holiday Thanksgiving takes place, it is also Native American Heritage month. The newsletter provides different possibilities to find information about Native American culture, land and the violent history of Thanksgiving.

Last month the annual international Fair Trade Towns Conference took place. A delegation of the Fair Trade Campaigns was invited to Ecuador, to learn about the lives of producers across the region, and ways to support them. Presenters from all over the globe attended the event to build a network for a more fair future.

Besides these events, the newsletter sheds light on the partner Florecal, a farm that sends high quality fair trade roses across the globe, all while making  the most out of their Community Development Funds and providing infrastructure.

If you are interested in the newsletter, you can subscribe at 



News Article

Twenty-five years ago, the first Fairtrade bananas appeared on supermarket shelves in Europe, imported by Fairtrade pioneer Agrofair, and grown on Volta River Estates in Ghana, which are still Fairtrade certified today. Since then, the Fairtrade banana sector has grown, as demonstrated by the now over 250 Fairtrade certified banana farms and plantations in 16 countries with more than 36,000 farmers and workers. Colombia, Dominican Republic, and Ecuador remained the top 3 largest suppliers of Fairtrade bananas for the United States in 2021. 

Cooperativa Bananera de Rio Frio (COOBAFRIO) is based in Magdalena, Colombia, and has offered Fairtrade certified bananas since 2011. Cooperative members produce around 4,000 tons of bananas a year and now sell two-thirds of that on Fairtrade terms, which include a Minimum Price that accounts for costs of production and an additional Fairtrade Premium of $1.00 a box.

Almost 100% of cooperative members report that their quality of life and economic situation has improved because of Fairtrade certification and that they have greater control over their futures and those of their families. All members said they now have greater freedom in growing their businesses and have received financial services, technical support, and access to fertilizers.

News Article

Even though Halloween is past, another holiday season is almost knocking on the door and will push chocolate sales once more. Reason enough to shed light on the crooked dealings of the chocolate industry. 

The chocolate industry has been growing rapidly during the last few years and is expected to become a 180 billion USD industry by 2025. But this immense growth comes at a heavy price for the cocoa farmers and their families in the Global South who work for a minimal income to provide cheap chocolate for us. 

Next to the daily struggle to make ends meet, which drives up to 1.5 million children onto the fields in West Africa and Latin America, this industry poisons its workers.

More and more (small) farms have been giving into the pressure and have started using heavily hazardous pesticides as a means to maximize their yields. 

Due to weak regulations, Africa and South/Central America are lucrative markets for these pesticides, many of which are illegal in the United States and the EU. These bans don't exist without a reason. The pesticides can cause acute poisoning and chronic health issues. 

Especially children, pregnant women and their unborn are endangered by the chemicals. Adding to this is a lack of information about potential hazards which can arise and protective equipment for the workers on the fields. 

You can find more on the dangers of chemical pesticides, exploitation of the chocolate farmers and how you can help in the following article. The article also provides a table rating of different manufacturers and gives examples of fair and organic produced chocolate.