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Behind-the-scenes benefits of the Fair Trade label

A Google+ Hangout conversation with a Fair Trade USA farmer offers insight into the certification's benefits. 

Typically, people buy items certified by Fair Trade USA because they have at least a smidgen of interest in the impact their purchases make. The recently updated Fair Trade certification logo—now sporting green, black, and white colors—indicates that safe working conditions, environmental stewardship, and fair prices were obtained (among other provisions) in the manufacturing of a product.

But despite the literature available on Fairtradeusa.org, understanding the direct ramifications of the certification has been difficult without a healthy dose of research.

In an effort to bridge the gap between consumers and farmers (who are frequently located hundreds of miles apart), the folks at Fair Trade USA experimented with an unexpected medium of communication: The Hangout feature on Google+.

Google+ fair trade hangout

This past Wednesday, a spectrum of individuals—a student, a blogger, Fair Trade USA employees, and myself—were able to video chat with Nelson Guerra, an organic coffee farmer who is part of the COPROCAEL cooperative in Honduras. A translator was present too—a relief considering my Spanish is restricted to asking directions to and from the aeropuerto.

The purpose of the inaugural Hangout? “The idea is to create an interface between consumers and farmers where there once was none,” said Jenna Larson, public relations specialist for Fair Trade USA. “I thought it was a great first experience, and we look forward to hosting many more Hangouts in the future to help connect American consumers and the people who grow and sew the products we love.”

Indeed, the event provided a deeper perception of how important Fair Trade is to farmers.

How fair trade benefits farmers

“We see the benefits in different ways,” explained Guerra, whose farm has held the certification for several years. “As a small producer it’s very important because we are guaranteed a consistent and fair price for our coffees. Before fair trade, there were so many issues around price, volume, and sales. Now we can plan for the future and use our money to invest back into our coffee production.” Gaining the technology and facilities to test and analyze the coffee has made it possible to produce a higher quality product, which dovetails with acquiring a higher premium. 

The ripples of economic stability extend beyond monetary gains as well. “Developing our farm and business has caused positive changes in our community. We can ensure work for our children, and send them to school. My son is finishing high school and is thinking about college,” says Guerra.

Some past criticism I’ve heard from Fair Trade USA is that the initial cost of the certification is way to pricey, but when asked about the profit gain, Nelson explained that it wasn’t so much about the money, but the time it took to comply with Fair Trade’s rigorous standards. He said he earned back the money invested in the certification after one year.

Ultimately, the implications extend well beyond the warm and fuzzy feeling we get from buying fair trade; and the opportunity to have a direct connection with a farmer who feels these benefits helped solidify my commitment to seeking responsibly manufactured products.

What are your thoughts on Fair Trade USA? Leave a comment!

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