Fair Trade Price

What Is a Fair Trade Price?

A fair trade price is the minimum price paid for certain agricultural products imported from developing countries.

Fair trade is a movement that believes it is unethical to pay producers in developing countries the market price if that price is too low to provide a sufficient quality of living. Instead, certain importers agree to pay producers in the developing world at least a minimum price for their goods. Developed nations then import the goods where they promote them as fair-trade products and, normally, sell them at a higher price.

Key Takeaways

  • A fair trade price is an ethical minimum price paid to producers in economically developing nations for their goods or services.
  • Fair trade is a global social movement aimed at reducing the exploitation of workers and small business owners in developing nations.
  • Opponents of the fair trade movement argue that establishing an artificially high price floor results in an oversupply that can lead to lower market prices for producers who cannot sell to fair trade buyers. 
  • The main tenets of the fair trade social movement include fair pricing, humane working conditions, environmental sustainability, direct trade, and transparent communication.

How a Fair Trade Price Works

For goods to carry the Fair Trade Certified label, they must comply with standards outlined by the non-governmental organization FLOCERT or other local fair-trade labelers.

FLOCERT broke up the set of standards it put in place into seven categories with standards for small producer organizations, hired labor, contract production, traders, climate, textile, and gold and associated precious metals. Within each category, there is a set of specific standards for products.

For example, within the small producer standards, there is another set of standards for products like cocoa, cane sugar, cereals, coffee, fresh fruit, honey, nuts, tea, and so on. These specific product standards cover issues like product composition, production, contracts, pre-financing, and pricing. However, these standards aren't set in stone and may fluctuate over time.

The most sold fair trade products in the world are flowers and plants, bananas, cocoa beans, coffee beans, and cotton.

The Fair Trade International Standards Committee

The body responsible for setting these standards is the Fair Trade International Standards Committee, a committee appointed by the Fairtrade International Board, which constantly reviews how individual international markets shift and economies change.

Yet, while the specifics of these standards are always subject to change, the principles that inform them are much more firm.

It's FLOCERT's mission to provide producers in economically developing countries with living wages for their work and to make sure unfair trade doesn't put their livelihood at risk. While the intentions of FLOCERT are virtuous, not all believe the Fair Trade system is completely fair to producers.

Tenets of Fair Trade Pricing

The overall goal of fair trade pricing is to minimize poverty for farmers and workers in developing countries. In order to work towards that goal, organizations such as Fair Trade USA and the Fair Trade Federation have detailed several main tenets for both buyers and sellers to follow.

Fair Prices

As we've discussed, fair trade basically ensures that farmers receive a reasonable minimum price for their products, regardless of market conditions. Purchasers agree to pay farmers on time, and farmers agree to pay a fair wage to their workers. Purchasers are also required to extend credit to producers in order to bring in the harvest.

Humane Conditions

Another element of fair trade is the requirement that farmers offer safe, healthy, and humane conditions for their workers. That includes completely banning the practice of child labor and forced labor. Specifically, fair trade rules ban all forms of worker discrimination, abuse, and harassment.

Direct Trade

Fair trade rules seek to cut out the middleman (such as brokers and transfer agents) as best as possible. By working directly with producers, fair trade importers are able to pay more share of the profits to the farmers themselves.

Open Communication

Fair trade seeks to keep the information among farmers, buyers, and consumers as transparent as possible. Producers look to give farmers as much information as possible about market conditions, technological advances, and best practices in order to build a sustainable long-term relationship.

Environmental Sustainability

Fair trade rules require farmers to only use sustainable growing methods that protect the environment. Therefore, things like pesticide and fertilizer use are restricted. Meanwhile, the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is completely banned. Farmers also promise to minimize waste as much as possible.

WFTO Principles of Fair Trade

The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) is one of the largest fair trade organizations dedicated to supporting businesses that "prioritize people over profits." The WFTO publishes a list of ten principles of fair trade. They are:

  1. Creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers
  2. Transparency and accountability
  3. Fair trading practices
  4. Payment of a fair price (including wages)
  5. Ensuring no child labor and forced labor
  6. Commitment to non-discrimination, gender equity and women's economic empowerment, and freedom of association
  7. Ensuring good working conditions
  8. Providing capacity building
  9. Promoting fair trade
  10. Respect for the environment

Benefits of Fair Trade Pricing

The benefits of fair trade pricing include:

Basic Needs Are Met

No matter what the commodity market is doing, fair trade pricing guarantees that farmers and workers are still able to earn enough money to cover the basic costs of living. This means at least a living wage and not a minimum wage.

Humane Working Conditions

Fair trade rules lead to reduced child labor, slave labor, and abusive practices. These issues are still real concerns in many developing economies.

Community Development

Fair trade benefits extend beyond individual basic needs and into the community with investments in clean water systems, hospitals, and schools.

Environmental Protection

Fair trade helps protect our natural resources such as water, soil, and vegetation through sustainable farming practices.

Criticisms of Fair Trade Pricing

Economists who oppose the fair trade system argue that establishing an artificial price floor results in an oversupply that can lead to lower market prices for producers that cannot sell to fair trade buyers.

For example, many in the North American coffee industry have shifted from using the Fair Trade system to buy and source beans to a direct trade model. By forming direct business relationships with the farmers, many roasters and coffee suppliers find they can get a better product and ensure fair pay to producers.

Other limitations to fair trade pricing include the high fees associated with being certified as "Fair Trade," lack of incentives for producers to become more efficient, higher prices for consumers, and a lack of accountability placed on producers.

Fair-Trade Investing

Fair trade investing involves specifically investing in companies or projects that promote fair trade with producers in economically developing nations.

Basic fair trade philosophies call for a living wage for suppliers of raw goods and materials and respect for strong environmental practices and a focus on the trading relationships between advanced economies and economically developing nations.

In terms of picking investments that promote fair trade principles, there's no push-button answer. An investor must investigate each company to learn their practices. Socially responsible mutual funds and other investments are available. Each may have its own definition of fair trade practices.

Common themes for socially responsible investments (SRI) include avoiding investment in companies that produce or sell addictive substances (like alcohol, gambling, and tobacco) and seeking out companies engaged in social justice, environmental sustainability, and alternative energy/clean technology efforts.

Socially responsible investments can be made in individual companies or through a socially conscious mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF).

What Is Fair Trade Pricing?

Fair trade pricing is a minimum price paid for certain agricultural products imported from developing countries. A tenet of the fair trade movement, fair trade pricing aims to ensure humane working conditions and fair treatment for producers and small businesses in those countries.

What Is the Minimum Price in Fair Trade?

There is no single minimum price for fair trade products. FLOCERT and other organizations set standards for a wide variety of products, ranging from cocoa and coffee to flowers, plants, bananas, and much more. Each product will be subject to different fair price standards and pricing.

What Are the Disadvantages of Fair Trade?

Critics of the fair trade movement point to the creation of oversupply through the establishment of a price floor. This oversupply can lead to lower market prices for producers not able to sell to fair trade buyers. In this way, the fair trade movement may not be providing equal support to all producers in a particular market or region. Critics also point to high prices, a lack of incentive toward efficiency among producers, and difficulty in maintaining accountability.

Who Stands to Benefit from Fair Trade?

Everyone can benefit from fair trade practices. The production company can receive the minimum amount required in order to meet the basic needs of their workers while continuing to operate, consumers benefit from knowing their products came from an organization dedicated to treating people well, and the worker producing the good is paid a livable wage.

An investor, too, could benefit through gains on their investment, having the knowledge they are putting their capital into organizations committed to fair pay and working conditions.

The Bottom Line

The fair trade movement supports an ethical minimum price to be paid to producers of various goods and services in developing countries. This price is intended to support humane working conditions, environmental sustainability, direct trade, and transparent communication. In order to be fair trade certified, products must meet a variety of standards set by the Fair Trade International Standards Committee or other local fair-trade labeling organizations.

Some of the potential benefits of fair trade pricing include a guaranteed income for producers, a reduction in abusive work practices, community investment, and sustainable environmental practices. But critics of the movement point to high fees associated with certification, higher prices for consumers, and a lack of accountability, among other concerns.

Article Sources
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  1. FLOCERT. "About Us."

  2. FLOCERT. "Fairtrade Standards."

  3. Fairtrade. "Fairtrade Production Overview."

  4. FLOCERT. "How We Set Standards."

  5. FLOCERT. "Our Vision and Values."

  6. Sustainable Living Association. "The Real Problems Behind Fair Trade."

  7. Fair Trade Federation. "What is Fair Trade?"

  8. Fair Trade USA. "Home."

  9. WFTO. "Ten Principles of Fair Trade."