Green America and Fairtrade: Empowering Sustainable Business

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Fairtrade and Green America’s shared mission of sustainable business 

By Margot Conover, External Relations Manager, Fairtrade America


What makes business better? Discover how people are taking business beyond profits to help people and the environment. When you seek out sustainable products, you’re not just supporting better business, you’re supporting your community and the world. 

By choosing Fairtrade certified products or companies from the Green Business Network, you are supporting sustainable businesses and growing the green economy.


Fairtrade shifts power to farming communities

Small farmers play an essential role in keeping us all fed, but they are under growing pressure from - among other things - unfettered globalized trade, climate change, land grabs, and conflict. Beyond the borders of the US, cooperatives have played a key role in helping the small farmers find an edge in the market. By organizing themselves, they can have a stronger voice and greater chance to create a better future for themselves.

Collective, democratic empowerment is at the heart of Fairtrade, just as it is central to the spirit of the green economy movement. Franz Van Der Hoff, one of the founders of Fairtrade said, "The best way to put the human back into the globalization process is to look from below, to be democratic, to see where the majority is at." For Fairtrade farmers, this begins with smallholders getting organized.

Fairtrade's approach is rooted in people coming together and building organizations that grow into viable businesses, develop greater bargaining power, and contribute to the fabric of their communities. 

Fairtrade's experience shows that when farmers and workers organize themselves, they can achieve startling results. The COAGRICSAL coffee cooperative in Honduras began with 22 farmers sitting under a fig tree deciding to sell their coffee together in 1994. Now 700 members sell nearly 4,500 tons a year, employ more than 100 staff and benefit 1,500 families. And that story continues among many of the cooperatives among the 1,200 Fairtrade certified producer organizations.

When conscious consumers buy a product with the Fairtrade label, they're connecting to those same farmers through a global, inclusive movement that is slowly but surely empowering small-farming communities to take greater control of their lives and futures.


Fairtrade empowers farmers to invest in their communities and protect local ecosystems

Fairtrade works all over the developing world to help them organize and invest in their communities. Here are five ways how:

1. To participate in Fairtrade, farmers must organize themselves into an association, like a co-op For small-scale farmers and workers, this gives them market power they could never hope to command on their own. Better ability to negotiate in international commodity markets helps break intergenerational poverty cycles that drive children or workers toward exploitative situations and contribute to environmental degradation. Then, like Zeddy Rotich, a Kenyan coffee farmer, they can invest in desperately needed services like climate change adaptation and mitigation.

2. Fairtrade Standards allow producers and farmers to benchmark their own path toward a more sustainable economy, and social and environmental development. Each association designs its own development plan, which must be approved by the members of the co-op. The Standards also set the basis for individual empowerment because all members have a voice and vote in the organizational decision-making process, including how the Fairtrade Premium is spent.

3. The Fairtrade Premium is an extra sum on top of the selling price that farmers and workers invest in projects of their choice. The Premium - globally worth more than $108 million a year - is about more than money. The decision-making process in developing projects helps foster participation, cooperation and dialogue. The farmer members are the ones who know what's most needed in their communities. They're the ones who have to live with the consequences of unfair trade and who will benefit most from a more equitable global system.

4. Fairtrade empowers a business to ensure its supply chains reflect its business's mission and values. For example, founded in 1998, Divine Chocolate is the only Fairtrade chocolate company that is also co-owned by cocoa farmers. Kuapa Kokoo, a co-operative of over 85,000 cocoa farmers in Ghana, receives the largest share (44%) of Divine’s distributable profits. This gives the farmers more economic stability, as well as the increased influence in the cocoa industry itself. Fairtrade supports Divine’s mission is to grow a successful global farmer-owned chocolate company using the amazing power of chocolate to delight and engage while also bringing people together to create dignified trading relations, thereby empowering producers and consumers.

5. Through the Fairtrade label, consumers have the power to hold businesses accountable. The label means that all the ingredients in a particular product that can be Fairtrade are Fairtrade Certified. For consumers, this provides a clear, direct link to the international Fairtrade system, since products bearing the Mark have met the social, economic, and environmental criteria for ethical supply chains and sustainable business. 


Celebrate Fair Trade Month with Green America This October


•October is also Non-GMO month! Did you know that Fairtrade prohibits the use of GMO seeds on certified farms? Check out Green America’s work to get GMOs and genetically engineered crops out of our food system and pushing for safe agricultural practices. 

•This Halloween, purchase these Fairtrade and organic chocolates and candies instead of scary GMO-filled candy or chocolate made from child labor.

•Want to share the Fairtrade story at your business? Fairtrade America provides support and materials for retailers wanting to showcase Fairtrade producer stories and educate their customers on how certifications support ethical supply chains. 

•Celebrate Fair Trade Month this October by hosting a Fair Trade Bake Sale. Raise some dough for a cause you care about (like Green America!) - all while supporting ethical farming practices by using Fairtrade ingredients. Delight your friends, coworkers, and neighbors with your tasty, sustainably-sourced creations and change lives. You can even win Fairtrade prizes, like a year’s supply of chocolate!


Whether you're shopping your everyday needs or in the market for something special, it's always important to support sustainable business and buy from companies that share your values. Look for Fairtrade certified products or explore the Green Business Network to buy from companies and sustainable business that you can trust.


Writer’s bio:

Margot Conover, the External Relations Manager at Fairtrade America, works to empower consumers to make supply chains fair and safe for farmers and workers in the Global South. She represents Fairtrade America at the Child Labor Coalition. Margot has worked in sustainable development since 2010, including spending two years in Ecuador working with fair trade and organic sugarcane, cocoa and coffee cooperatives. In her free time, she manages a community permaculture orchard and serves on the Produce Marketing Association’s Women’s Fresh Perspectives committee. Margot received her MA in International Relations from the University of Chicago and her BA in Political Science from Christopher Newport University, and currently lives in Washington, DC in a big house with five roommates, a dog, two cats, and a vegetable garden.

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