Fair Trade Penn State » FAQ


Questions about Fair Trade

What does the Fair Trade Certification look like?

It can be any of these:

Are people really in “modern day slavery”?

Yes, it is the exact definition of slavery – forcing to work without pay. We know the word seems harsh or exaggerated, but it is truly the situation. Learn more at Free the Slaves or Not for Sale Campaign.

Businesses can’t make money doing it this way though, right?

Wrong. There are many studies that show businesses can make 6-15% MORE profit by treating their workers well. The company Alta Gracia is a great example. They pay all of their workers in the Dominican Republic a living wage, and they own more of the market for collegiate apparel than Nike or Adidas.

There’s no solution to poverty.

This is wrong – people are poor because of other human beings, not because it was “meant to be” that way. Many don’t realize, but we in rich countries use many mechanisms to keep the poor in extreme poverty, in order to benefit ourselves. We suggest reading “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.”

The poor like being poor, or bring it on themselves.

No one who was poor has every said they enjoyed being poor. The poor go through heartbreak daily, watching their family members and children suffer, and not being able to do anything about it because they have no economic opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty.

The poor are lazy, and that’s why they are poor.

The poor are usually the ones that work the hardest, doing anything they can to feed and protect their families. Many of the world’s poor work 12-18 hours a day in backbreaking conditions just to keep their families alive.

Is Fair Trade the same quality as conventionally made items?

It’s actually the opposite – workers take pride in what they do when they are treated well, and usually go above and beyond to produce items that are perfect so they don’t lose their good jobs. In sweatshops, not only do the companies not care, but they cause conditions that will force a workers to produce worse quality. For example, when they have worked up to 18 hours a day, they are exhausted and cannot produce as high quality merchandise. Most of them are also usually hungry, which can produce poor quality as well.

What’s the difference between “Fair Trade” and “Free Trade”?

Free trade is a market model in which trade in goods and services between or within countries flow unhindered by government-imposed restrictions. Fair Trade is anorganized social movement and market-based approach to alleviating global poverty and promoting sustainability. The Fair Trade movement promotes the payment of a fair price as well as social and environmental standards in areas related to the production of a wide variety of goods. Fair Trade is not an attempt to erase all principles of Free Trade, or to reverse the global nature of the business environment today. A common misconception isthat Fair Trade is the opposite of Free Trade, and the two are often confused. According to Paul Rice of TransFair USA, “Fair Trade makes globalization and ‘free trade’ work for the poor” (TransFair USA, 2005 Shareholder Report).

Is it possible for mainstream products (like Hershey bars) to get Fair Trade certification?

Yes! More and more mainstream companies are certifying their products each year. Hershey’s is actually a great example, see this article.

Is Fair Trade the same as organic? Or, are all fair trade products organic?

No and no. If you see the “USDA Organic” certification on a product, that does NOT mean it is fair trade. Similarly, if you see a fair trade certification on a product label, it does not necessarily mean it’s organic (although MANY companies that seek fair trade certification also happen to sell organic products).

Are Fair Trade products more expensive that non-Fair Trade products?

Often, there is little or no difference between Fair Trade products and non-Fair Trade products.  Non-Fair Trade products are often traded by a long string of middlemen between the producer and the retailer, increasing the price of those items.  Fair Trade tends to be based on direct trade relationships, so that more of the price of the item goes directly to the Fair Trade producer.

What items can I buy fairly traded?

Right now, most items certified as “Fair Trade” fall into these major categories:

Grocery – coffee, teas, chocolate bars, bananas, mangoes, pineapples, eggplants, peppers, quinoa
Cosmetics – soaps, shea butters, shampoos, cocoa butters
Apparel/Accessories – Some clothing, scarves, purses, wallets, keychains
Home Decor – Wall hangings, decorative bowls, tapestries, rugs, towels.


Questions about the Fair Trade Penn State Group

Are you against sweatshops?

Yes. We don’t campaign against sweatshops in the typical way that Anti-Sweatshop groups do, though. Instead, we urge consumers to be conscious about what they are buying, and commit to buying fair trade – this sends a message to companies to clean up their factories without hurting workers.

So, do you want people in developing countries to be paid the American minimum wage?

No, we want them to be paid enough to support their families – a “living wage.” This wage will most likely be much lower than the American wage, because the price of goods in developing countries is usually lower. We also push for clean, safe working environments.

Also see FAQs about our T-Shirt Campaign