3 Things to Know for Fair Trade Month

10/22/2015 10:35 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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October is a month full of months ... and days. There's Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Non-GMO Month, with National Kale Day, World Food Day, the International Day of Rural Women and, of course, National Cat Day, sprinkled throughout. There are a lot of things to celebrate in October, and in a way, Fair Trade Month connects them all. October is a month that shows how much people care -- about other people, about living beings, about our food and about the planet. This too is the heart of Fair Trade.

Fair Trade Month is a time to spread the word about who and where our products come from. This means putting the spotlight on challenges like child labor in cocoa and slavery in seafood, and also celebrating the farms, factories, brands and retailers that are doing things differently.

As we dive into late October, there are three important things to know about Fair Trade Month:

1. Learning more about Fair Trade is easy

If you're new to Fair Trade, you might be wondering what it is, how it works and why it matters. In a nutshell, Fair Trade is a certification of social, environmental and economic responsibility. The Fair Trade Certified label on a product means that it was grown (or manufactured) in accordance with strict standards, covering areas like safe working conditions, no child or forced labor, elimination of harmful chemicals, no GMOs and more.

But it's not just about standards and audits. Fair Trade is a mechanism that allows farmers and workers to be active participants in bringing those standards to life, and in building strong, thriving businesses and communities. Fair Trade producers are democratically organized, and they vote together to determine how best to use their additional income (Fair Trade Premiums) to address their most pressing needs.

"Fair Trade has made a huge difference in my life," says Ulysma Desiline, a Fair Trade mango grower in Haiti. "Working with a Fair Trade cooperative allows me to support my family."

There is a ton of information out there about Fair Trade, and BeFair.org is a good place to start. There you can learn more about how Fair Trade works, what products are certified, and how it benefits farmers, the earth and you.

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2. Fair Trade products are more accessible than ever

Coffee was the very first Fair Trade Certified product to hit the market when Fair Trade USA opened its doors in 1998. At the time, coffee prices were at a historic low, and many roasters turned to Fair Trade as a way to help producers earn a stable income in the face of intense market volatility. According to the FAO, "after a brief recovery in the mid-1990s... real coffee prices had fallen by 2001 to levels lower than ever recorded. In real terms, coffee prices today are less than one third of their 1960 level, and for many producers less than the cost of production." Fair Trade was as much about ensuring that farmers could stay in business as it was about building a more equitable, transparent, sustainable system of trade.

Oddly enough, coffee farmers are still fighting that same battle today. The cost of production continues to rise (as do mounting challenges like climate change), but prices have stayed incredibly low. This is why Fair Trade coffee remains as important as ever.

While coffee is still the leader in Fair Trade (over 1 billion pounds certified since 1998), many (30+) new Fair Trade categories have emerged over the years. You can find Fair Trade in nearly every aisle of the supermarket, and can live a truly Fair Trade lifestyle with the introduction of new apparel and home goods products.

You can find Fair Trade fruit, vegetables, flowers, sugar, cocoa, tea, coffee, spices, grains, sports balls, apparel, home decor, coconut (and coconut water), seafood and many other products from over 1,000 different companies. Whole Foods Market remains the leading retailer in Fair Trade offerings, while well-loved brands like Patagonia, West Elm, Naked Juice, Kashi and others begin to embrace Fair Trade.

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3. Fair Trade Month doesn't end in October

Well, technically it does, but the great part about Fair Trade Month is that it gives you the tools needed to bring Fair Trade into your daily life beyond October.

Regardless of what month it is, Fair Trade invites us to ask questions about our products, and to think about where (and who) they came from. It encourages us to be more conscious about the votes we cast with our dollars, every time we shop. In many ways, Fair Trade helps us be a little more human, and a little more aware of the world we want to leave behind for the generations to follow.

Happy Fair Trade Month, and don't forget to Be Fair.