The preferred label is by the international certification federation which is mostly reserved for small farmers (below, upper center). U.S. Fair Trade label now allows commercial farms to be included in certifications, so it is less reliable in supporting small farmers. Fair for Life is the most stringent label in which the entire food chain is certified (not just small farmers). Rainforest is one of the weaker labels without third party certification and as few at 10% of products coming from forests.
2. Become familiar with Fair Trade issues
Bananas are among the most concentrated industries and exploitative of workers. Equal Exchange created the only major Fair Trade banana company but it has limited distribution. Cocoa is among the largest Fair Trade sectors with 14 million small farmers dependent for the livelihood. You should avoid chocolate products from the Ivory Coast with a long history of child labor. Coffee is the largest Fair Trade sector, but is now challenged with Rust due to global warming. It is the easiest Fair Trade product to buy including at Starbucks.
Cotton and sugar prices have been declining with very low wage workers. A few companies such as M&H buy organic cotton with ethical considerations. Sugar is not available for Fair Trade because of U.S. tariffs that do not allow imports.
Flowers are the fastest growing Fair Trade product especially from Latin America.
Tea is the most exploitive product with only two companies controlling most of the market. Similar to tea, spices are grown by small farmers but controlled by two international firms. Even Fair Trade certified tea and spice plantations may not live up to their certification requirements.
Wood products are often exploited by illegal logging; certified legal lumber is available at major firms such as Lowes.
Gold is another exploitive product in which it is hard to trace its sources as ethically produced. Gold mining is polluting many streams especially in the Amazon region.
Handicrafts from small producers are the original Fair Trade products, but they have been adversely impacted by cheap Chinese imports. Ten Thousand Villages (which had a store in Sarasota) is the leading company for Fair Trade handicrafts. Otherwise, buy them from Whole Foods or small specialty stores.
3. Support those stores that offer the most Fairtrade products
Equal Exchange (at UU Sunday table or online) is the most committed to small farmers, alternative trading and environmental protection. They have the largest and most sophisticated roasters in the country. They sell coffee to Trader Joes under its brand, but it is easy to identify by the international Fair Trade symbol.
Whole Foods has about 1,000 Fair Trade products including imported flowers, fruits, vegetable and bananas. They offer Fair Trade coffees (Green Mountain and Allegro Organic brands, among the most committed). They have a large array of chocolates including Equal Exchange, Theo, Newman’s Own and Devine Chocolate which are Fair Trade. However, many chocolates are not Fair Trade, so check the labels careful. Whole Foods sells Fair Trade clothing, handicrafts, soaps and other products. Many of their 360 products are Fair Trade, but again check the labels.
Trader Joes has many Fair Trade products including Equal Exchange coffees (not labeled but easy to identify) chocolates, cheeses and other products.
Richard’s has some Fair Trade products, but not as extensive as Whole Foods or Trader Joes.
Costco and other large box stores may have some Fair Trade items, mostly coffee. Sam’s Clubs and Target have a few Fair Trade items including chocolates and wines. Publix is the least committed to Fair Trade. You may want to boycott Publix or at least complain about them as not participating in Florida Tomato Growers Exchange and its campaign for fair wages for workers. UU has led these protest efforts.
4. Companies by product line committed to Fair Trade or Ethical Trading
Chocolate and Cocoa: Dean's Beans, Divine Chocolate, Equal Exchange, Ithaca Fine Chocolates, Theo, Alter Eco, Sojourn, Sweet Earth Organic Chocolates, Omanhene and Yachana Gourmet. Chocolates from Peru and Ecuador are high quality and mostly sourced from small farmers and their organizations.
Coffee: Equal Exchange, Café Campesino, Alter Eco, Green Mountain Coffee, Cloudforest Initiatives, Peace Coffee, Dean's Beans, Larry's Beans, Higher Grounds Trading Co., Café Mam (Royal Blue Organics), American Joe, Just Coffee, Higher Ground Roasters, Thanksgiving Coffee Co., Grounds for Change, Fair Trade Coffee Co., Intelligent Nutrients, Cafe Canopy, Pura Vida Coffee Company, Morning Glory Coffee and Tea, Coffee-Tea-Etc., and Nectar of Life. Some sellers at the Sarasota farmers markets claim to be Fair Trade, but are not.
Garments: Boll & Branch, Colored Organics, Coyuchi, Gallant International, Good & Fair Clothing, HAE Now, Loomstate, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Fair Indigo, Mountain Khakis, Oliberte Limited HQ, PACT Apparel, Patagonia, prAna, SOL Sustained Organic Living, Under the Canopy and West Elm. If you want to be environmentally conscious, Patagonia and REI are the most environmentally committed companies. The Body Shop, Mark Spencer, Marshalls and H & M are committed to Fairtrade and organic fibers such as cotton and recycling, but there are few labels to identify them.