Fair trade is a foundation whose stated goal is to help producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions. Members of the movement advocate the payment of higher prices to exporters, as well as improved social and environmental standards. The movement focuses in particular on commodities, or products which are typically exported from developing countries to developed countries, but also consumed in domestic markets (e.g. Brazil, India and Bangladesh) most notably handicrafts, coffee, cocoa, wine, sugar, fresh fruit, chocolate, flowers and gold. The movement seeks to promote greater equity in international trading partnerships through dialogue, transparency, and respect. It promotes sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers in developing countries. Fair trade is grounded in three core beliefs; first, producers have the power to express unity with consumers. Secondly, the world trade practices that currently exist promote the unequal distribution of wealth between nations. Lastly, buying products from producers in developing countries at a fair price is a more efficient way of promoting sustainable development than traditional charity and aid.
There are several recognized fair trade certifiers, including Fairtrade International (formerly called FLO, Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International), IMO, Make Trade Fair and Eco-Social. Additionally, Fair Trade USA, formerly a licensing agency for the Fairtrade International label, broke from the system and is implementing its own fair trade labelling scheme, which has resulted in controversy due to its inclusion of independent smallholders and estates for all crops. In 2008, Fairtrade International certified approximately (€3.4B) of products. The World Trade Organization publishes annual figures on the world trade of goods and services.
The fair trade movement is popular in the UK, where there are 500 Fairtrade towns, 118 universities, over 6,000 churches, and over 4,000 UK schools registered in the Fairtrade Schools Scheme. In 2011, over 1.2 million farmers and workers in more than 60 countries participated in Fairtrade International's fair trade system, which included €65 million in fairtrade premium paid to producers for use developing their communities. According to Fairtrade International, nearly six out of ten consumers have seen the Fairtrade mark and almost nine in ten of them trust it.
Some criticisms have been raised about fair trade systems. One 2015 study in a journal published by the MIT Press concluded that producer benefits were close to zero because there was an oversupply of certification, and only a fraction of produce classified as fair trade was actually sold on fair trade markets, just enough to recoup the costs of certification. Some research indicates that the implementation of certain fair trade standards can cause greater inequalities in some markets where these rigid rules are inappropriate for the specific market. In the fair trade debate there are complaints of failure to enforce the fair trade standards, with producers, cooperatives, importers and packers profiting by evading them. One proposed alternative to fair trade is direct trade, which eliminates the overhead of the fair trade certification, and allows suppliers to receive higher prices much closer to the retail value of the end product. Some suppliers use relationships started in a fair trade system to autonomously springboard into direct sales relationships they negotiate themselves, whereas other direct trade systems are supplier-initiated for social responsibility reasons similar to a fair trade system.
There are a large number of fair trade and ethical marketing organizations employing different marketing strategies. Most fair trade marketers believe it is necessary to sell the products through supermarkets to get a sufficient volume of trade to affect the developing world. The Fairtrade brand is by far the biggest of the fair trade coffee brands. Packers in developed countries pay a fee to The Fairtrade Foundation for the right to use the brand and logo, and nearly all the fee goes to marketing. Packers and retailers can charge as much as they want for the coffee. The coffee has to come from a certified fair trade cooperative, and there is a minimum price when the world market is oversupplied. Additionally, the cooperatives are paid an additional 10c per lb premium by buyers for community development projects.[pages needed] The cooperatives can, on average, sell only a third of their output as fair trade, because of lack of demand, and sell the rest at world prices.[pages needed] The exporting cooperative can spend the money in several ways. Some go to meeting the costs of conformity and certification: as they have to meet fair trade standards on all their produce, they have to recover the costs from a small part of their turnover, sometimes as little as 8%, and may not make any profit. Some meet other costs. Some is spent on social projects such as building schools, health clinics and baseball pitches. Sometimes there is money left over for the farmers. The cooperatives sometimes pay farmers a higher price than farmers do, sometimes less, but there is no evidence on which is more common.
The marketing system for fair trade and non-fair trade coffee is identical in the consuming countries, using mostly the same importing, packing, distributing and retailing firms. Some independent brands operate a "virtual company", paying importers, packers and distributors and advertising agencies to handle their brand, for cost reasons. In the producing country, fair trade is marketed only by fair trade cooperatives, while other coffee is marketed by fair trade cooperatives (as uncertified coffee), by other cooperatives and by ordinary traders.
To become certified fair trade producers, the primary cooperative and its member farmers must operate to certain political standards, imposed from Europe. FLO-CERT, the for-profit side, handles producer certification, inspecting and certifying producer organizations in more than 50 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In the fair trade debate there are many complaints of failure to enforce these standards, with producers, cooperatives, importers and packers profiting by evading them.
There remain many fair trade organizations that adhere more or less to the original objectives of fair trade, and that market products through alternative channels where possible, and market through specialist fair trade shops, but they have a small proportion of the total market.