If a corporation can be a person, then fair trade can be its conscience

By Tom Havran
What does fair trade mean? Merriam Webster defines the word “trade” as:

  1. The business of buying and selling or bartering commodities.
  2. An act or instance of trading…an exchange of property usually without use of money.

Cardamom is grown on small farms, in steep, rugged terrain. Our cardamom is grown by a group of farmer co-ops in Guatemala, who are part of our Well Earth program.

I always thought that a trade was inherently a fair exchange. A person couldn’t get something great in exchange for junk. Nor could the trade work if one person took advantage of the other: in the lunchroom during grade school, I couldn’t get a friend’s tater tots for anything less than my chocolate pudding desert with graham cracker crust (my mushy, cold, cooked-to-oblivion green beans just wouldn’t do.)

But the word “fair” doesn’t show up anywhere in Webster’s definition and, now that I’m grown, I see the darker aspects of humanity tainting the act of trading. In so many trade situations, there are hidden disadvantages for one party, such as the subsistence coffee berry picker in Guatemala getting only a penny or two out of that $6 latte you buy every morning on the way to work.

The fair trade movement

Unless we’re sociopaths, our consciences guide us in knowing what a fair trade of goods or services for profit is. As individuals, our humanity compels us to adhere to an unwritten and inherently understood code of fairness when we deal with others. And even though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations are individuals, it doesn’t mean that those corporations will behave with a noble, individual conscience. In the corporate mind, ill-gained profit from unfair trade practices often has a tendency to be measured as a good thing because it leads to increased profitability.

The fair trade movement provides a healthy and growing countermeasure to this unfair trade. It consists of any number of concurrent production, buying and selling businesses, federations and certifying organizations that collectively promote models of progressive capitalism, featuring aspects of social consciousness and economic justice for all of the parties involved. You’ve probably heard of some of them: Fairtrade International, FLO International, Equal Exchange, etc.

Madagascar vanilla beans

Women in Madagascar processing vanilla beans, which we source from a Well Earth supplier.

Beyond the associated fair trade organizations themselves, progressive companies are developing their own internal versions of fair trade exchanges as well, such as Frontier’s very own Well Earth program. Although there may always be a bit of controversy and competing definitions and programs of fair trade, the growing economical subset of fair trade is a good thing.  We can all feel good about the movement in general and exercise our buying clout to learn more and support all of the players in the fair trade economy, from the third-world farmer to the economy-driving successful business on the other.

Get involved
If fair trade is important to you, join us to support World Fair Trade Day 2013. While World Fair Trade Day is May 11, this collection of events takes place May 4-19 in venues all over the country by individuals, groups and businesses that “demand a world where all trade is fair.” Please get involved along with us by visiting ftrn.org for more information and a schedule of events near you.

How will you mark World Fair Trade Day?


Tom HavranAbout the author: Tom is communicator of natural living for Frontier, Simply Organic and Aura Cacia brands. In other words, he’s a very imaginative copywriter. A local boy, raised on a farm just down the road from the company’s headquarters in Norway, Tom enjoys drawing, plant hoarding, cooking and living the simple life in the beautiful state of Iowa.

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