5 Things to Look for When Buying Fair Trade Products Online
Although it’s been nine years since I first took mouse to hand in search of Fair Trade products, in many ways it’s like my first time. Then I was shopping for products to resell in my former FT business. Now as a consumer (and advocate), I’m beginning to luxuriantly appreciate the excitement of shopping again….just for me!
Wanting to adjust my eyes to this new landscape, I’ve clicked through to hundreds of FT websites over the last few months, reading stories of beginnings, recent journeys, kinships with artisans, and of course checking out new fall lines. Unknowingly I found myself creating a mental checklist of things I looked for on the sites that I visited. Besides the obvious, easy navigation and great graphics, more importantly I looked for evidence of transparency. After all, being transparent predominantly differentiates Fair Traders from conventional traders.
Because Fair Trade is (for the most part) an unregulated term used to describe specific conditions in which products are traded, it is difficult to “guarantee” you’re actually buying a Fair Trade product.
Here are a few things I look for when buying Fair Trade products online and why:
1. Third Party Credibility – This tells if the company has submitted to a third party audit or evaluation.
Third party certifiers conduct audits, then allows use of their logo (also called a “label or mark”) on the business or product (think USDA organic seal). While membership organizations evaluate practices, then grants membership (think Better Business Bureau). Both certifiers and membership organizations set Fair Trade standards, and businesses (and organizations) must demonstrate how they adherence to those standards.
With product labeling, it’s easy to confuse consumers into thinking you’re buying a certified Fair Trade product when you’re not. Some businesses only certify a small portion of their products, so if you don’t see the label on the product, then it’s not certified. Businesses go through a lot of work (and pay fees) to become certified, so those who have it will proudly identify their credentials.
2. Supply Chain – This tells the history of the product from maker to seller.
There are a number of businesses involved in bringing products to the market. From raw material suppliers, processors, designers, artisans, in-country collectives, wholesalers, retailers. While sometimes incorrectly labeled the “middleman”, in Fair Trade they can all have a unique and needed purpose, usually around helping to reduce costs, provide training and increasing volume.
I especially look for links and information on who made the products and how they’ve benefited from Fair Trade.
3. Ownership – This tells who owns the business (or organization).
Fifty years ago consumers and business owners were neighbors, knew each other by first name, and their kids went to school together. While those days are long gone, I very much appreciate personal connections when shopping. Let’s face it, there are plenty of places to shop anonymously. I like reading the stories about the owner, and what led them to start the busines. Did they travel abroad and have a life changing experience, volunteer in Peace Corp, or were motivated by a belief? Are they owned by a multinational corporation?
4. Mission – This tells the official purpose and vision of the business.
After I’ve read about the people, I usually find myself drifting over to read Mission statements. Mission statements can be mistakenly forgotten about, written at start up, then left to collect dust. For me they tell what a business thinks is “important”. What are their priorities? Are they in plain English? What’s not on the list? Do their actions support their Mission?
5. Product Reviews – This tells what others thought of their products.
Living in a digital age it’s impossible to translate everything via the computer. Things like smell, taste, and texture are lost when shopping online. Fortunately candid comments from other shoppers can give you the skinny on products.
While there’s little that can be guaranteed in this day and age, these are a few things I do to ensure my shopping dollars are consciously being spent the way I want them, on Fair Trade.
What do you look for when shopping for Fair Trade online?