The ins and outs of fair trade

The ins and outs of fair trade
Courtesy photo Fair trade aims to prioritize people over profit by offering better conditions for workers and producers in marginalized communities.

By Kate McMahon

World Fair Trade Day, a global celebration held each year on the second Saturday of May, is coming up this weekend. It’s an opportunity to envision a world where trade helps support small-scale farmers, producers and their families, cultivating healthy and sustainable communities around the world.

But first, let’s take a step back and talk about what fair trade is. According to the World Fair Trade Organization, the definition of fair trade is:

“ … a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South.”

Fair trade has humble beginnings. In 1946, Edna Ruth Byler, a wife and mother, became an unexpected entrepreneur. She began buying needlework from women in the LaPlata Valley of Puerto Rico and bringing it back to her home in Pennsylvania and selling it to her friends and family. What started as one woman selling textiles from the trunk of her car and telling the stories of artisans who made them, grew into lasting partnerships and a global fair trade movement that is still growing today.

The 10 principles of fair trade specify the ways that fair trade enterprises are set up and behave to ensure they put people and the planet first. The WFTO carries out verification and monitoring to ensure these principles are upheld. The principles include providing opportunity for disadvantaged producers; transparency and accountability; ensuring fair trade practices; paying a fair price; ensuring no forced or child labor and commitment to non-discrimination, gender equity and women’s economic empowerment and freedom of association.

But fair trade is about more than just trading. It is a vision of business and trade that puts people and the planet before profit. It fights poverty, climate change, gender inequality and injustice and is a proof of concept that showcases the enterprise models of the new economy.

Why should you care? Your purchasing dollar can make a difference. We are one of the most consumer driven nations in the world, and by choosing fair trade, we are choosing to support a global movement that is striving to create change and end generational poverty through trade. The global market has become a very competitive place that has put enormous pressure on craftspeople all over the world to make their products cheaper and faster. Choosing to purchase fair trade is a way of saying that it’s important to you that the person who made your product is not exploited.

So, step out on Saturday and support your local fair trade store or grocer by purchasing some delicious fair trade chocolate or coffee, grabbing a gift for your friend or stocking up on greeting cards to send to friends and family throughout the year. You have many choices right here in Alexandria, starting with Ten Thousand Villages, who has been a fair trade source on King Street for more than 27 years. MOM’s Organic Market, Indus Imports and Mason and Greens are other great local options to find fair trade or locally made products.

Want to learn more about fair trade and how to get involved? Visit or

The writer is managing director of Ten Thousand Villages.