What is Fair Trade?

By: Co+op

Choosing fair trade is a powerful way to prioritize the people behind your food – in a similar way to shopping local. Fair trade is about creating an alternative approach to global trade based on partnership and mutual respect instead of exploitation; partnership between those growing our food, those selling it and those enjoying it.

Not only is October Fair Trade Month, it is also Co-op Month so we thought this was the perfect time to celebrate the connection between the co-op movement in the US and the work that Fairtrade International does to prioritize people globally!

So what is fair trade?

Fair trade is a movement made up of producers, certifiers, shoppers, activists and businesses that use their collective resources, voices and power to make sure that the people at the beginning of the supply chain (farmers and workers), who often get left out of the benefits of trade, get a fair deal.

There are a variety of different organizations that all tackle this massive problem in different ways. One of the most well-known is Fairtrade International and their US branch, Fairtrade America. You’ve probably seen their green and blue label on Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Equal Exchange bananas, Tony’s Chocolonely chocolate bars or many other products.

Fairtrade America works to make trade fair through:

  • A unique pricing model that serves both as a safety net when the market price fluctuates and as a source of flexible spending dollars to meet the needs of farming communities.
  • Rigorous social, economic and environmental standards that not only make farming more sustainable, they also prioritize workers’ rights, gender equality and the climate change adaptation.
  • Businesses from farm to end product are audited by a third-party certifier that ensures the Fairtrade Standards are being followed.

Half of the representatives in the Fairtrade International governing body – the General Assembly – are producers; meaning, they have an equal voice in key decisions.

The co-op connection

For years, farming cooperatives have been key players in Fairtrade. Currently, Fairtrade works with about 1,800 cooperatives worldwide. These cooperatives are particularly important for small-holder farmers (ie: farmers that grow on small plots of land less than 12 acres) who rely on these organizations for support and bargaining power.

Johnny Gabriel Navas Aquim, a Fairtrade banana farmer from Ecuador, has experienced the benefits of being part of a cooperative first hand. At 26-years-old, he is a third-generation farmer. He experienced first-hand the struggles associated with farming, including the grueling labor, lack of a stable selling price for his crops and the need to plant a variety of fruit trees to make ends meet.

Joining AsoGuabo Cooperative, a group of 350 small-holder banana farmers, has made his farm more sustainable and created space for him to innovate on his farm in the form of aquaculture.

This month, Fairtrade America and co-ops are partnering to tell stories – like Johnny’s - through public art as well as in-store and online activations as part of the Choose Fairtrade. Choose the World You Want. campaign. We hope this campaign harnesses the power of co-op shoppers and the nearly 2 million Fairtrade farmers, because when we work together change does happen.

Here are ways you can get involved during Fair Trade and Co-op Month:

  • Check out the murals! If you are in Austin, the Twin Cities or Tacoma, you can see them in person. But everyone can see them all online at
  • Enter for a chance to win a Choose Fairtrade. Choose the world you want. Prize Pack! Fairtrade America is giving out 20 throughout the course of the month (five per week) and they are filled with Fairtrade goodies and print of a Fairtrade mural!
  • Visit your local co-op and look for Fairtrade products with the green and blue Fairtrade Mark!