Principles of Domestic Fair Trade

Domestic Fair Trade Working Group

In recent years, the international Fair Trade movement has gained momentum, reaching more producers, traders and consumers with its message of fairness and equity in global trade. Representing a convergence of co-operative, solidarity, and social justice movements, Fair Traders focus on the empowerment and capacity-building of small-scale farmers, artisans and agricultural workers in the global South, and linking these producers with concerned consumers in the North through equitable trading relationships. By creating businesses committed to principles of fairness and equity and leading by example, Fair Trade Organizations have also created positive change in the mainstream marketplace by influencing the conduct of conventional corporations.

Today we can see that many of the challenges faced by producers in marginalized regions of the world are not dissimilar from those affecting family farmers in the North. In fact, many of these challenges are largely the result of the same global economic forces. As in the developing world, farmers, traders, workers and consumers have joined together to take action in many often parallel ways. One question has been what values might bring these groups together into common cause to create a more socially just, participatory and sustainable economic system on the global, national, regional and local levels.

What follows is our attempt to translate the traditional principles of international Fair Trade, as expressed by organizations such as the International Fair Trade Association and the Fair Trade Federation, into the domestic, regional and local economic spheres. Our primary goal is to support family-scale farming, to reinforce farmer-led initiatives such as farmer cooperatives, and to bring these groups together with mission-based traders, retailers and concerned consumers to contribute to the movement for sustainable agriculture in North America. It is our hope that in maintaining a consistent approach that shares basic values with those of international Fair Trade, we may help create a more holistic model that can be applied wherever trade takes place. These principles are not specific standards, but rather represent the values that underlie and guide our work together as organizations and individuals committed to “Health, Justice and Sustainability.”

The principles and goals that unite our organizations in this effort are:

1. Family Scale Farming. Fair Trade focuses on reinforcing the position of small and family-scale producers that have been marginalized by the mainstream marketplace as a means of preserving the culture of farming and rural community, promoting economic democracy and diversity, and ensuring a more healthy and sustainable planet.

2. Capacity Building for Producers. Fair Trade is a means of developing the producers’ independence, strengthening their ability to engage directly with the marketplace, and gaining more control over their futures. Resources from trading relationships are directed toward this purpose in a participatory manner by those who will benefit from them.

3. Democratic and Participatory Ownership and Control. Fair Trade emphasizes co-operative organization as a means of empowering producers, workers and consumers to gain more control over their economic and social lives. In situations where such organization is absent, mechanisms will be created to ensure the democratic participation of producers and workers, and the equitable distribution of the fruits of trade.

4. Rights of Labor. Fair Trade means a safe and healthy working environment for producers. The participation of children (if any) does not adversely affect their well-being, security, educational requirements and need for play and conforms to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as the law and norms of the local situation. Fair Trade ensures that there are mechanisms in place through which hired labor has an independent voice and is included in the benefits of trade. Programs of apprenticeship are promoted to develop the skills of the next generation of farmers, artisans and workers.

5. Equality and Opportunity. Fair Trade emphasizes the empowerment of women, minorities, indigenous peoples and other marginalized members of society to represent their own interests, participate directly in trade and to share in its economic benefits.

6. Direct Trade. Where possible, Fair Trade attempts to reduce the intermediaries between the primary producer and the consumer, delivering more of the benefits of such trade to the producer and connecting the consumer more directly with the source of their food and other products, and the people who produced them.

7. Fair and Stable Pricing. A fair price is one that has been agreed through dialogue and participation. It covers not only the costs of production but enables production which is socially just and environmentally sound. It provides fair pay to the producers and takes into account the principle of equal pay for equal work by women and men. Fair Traders ensure prompt payment and stable pricing that enables producers to plan for the future.

8. Shared Risk and Affordable Credit. Farmers often bear the greatest risks of agriculture and an unstable marketplace. Fair Traders work to share these risks among producers, processors, marketers and consumers through more equitable trade partnerships, fair and prompt payment, transparent relationships and affordable credit. In situations where access to credit is difficult, or the terms of credit are not beneficial to producers, Fair Traders provide or facilitate access to such credit, or assist producers in creating their own mechanisms for providing credit.

9. Long-Term Trade Relationships. Fair Trade fosters long-term trade partnerships at all levels within the production, processing and marketing chain that provide producers with stability and opportunities to develop marketing, production and quality skills, as well as access to new markets for their products.

10. Sustainable Agriculture. Fair Trade emphasizes a holistic approach to agriculture, supporting sustainable agricultural strategies such as Organic, Biodynamic, Integrated Pest Management, farm diversification and small-scale farming that protect the environment, sustain farming communities, and provide consumers with quality, healthy food. Fair Trade emphasizes the biodiversity of traditional agriculture, supports the rights of farmers over their seed, and preserves cultural diversity.

11. Transparency and Accountability. The Fair Trade system depends on transparency of costs, pricing and structures at all levels of the trading system. Fair Traders are accountable to each other and the wider community by openly sharing such information.

12. Education and Advocacy. Fair Trade emphasizes education at all levels of the agricultural chain, engaging farmers, workers, traders and consumers in advocating for a more equitable, democratic and sustainable economy. Fair Traders in particular educate consumers about the inequities of the trading system and the need for alternatives, while sharing information with producers about the marketplace. Education strengthens the Fair Trade movement and empowers its stakeholders in creating a better world for everyone.


The basis of these principles was established at the first meeting of the Domestic Fair Trade Working Group at La Farge, Wis., on August 23 and 24, 2005. The draft principles were further developed by the working group steering committee, which included Erbin Crowell (Equal Exchange Co-op), Jason Freeman (Farmer Direct Co-op/FairDeal), Michael Schneider, (Organic Valley/ CROPP Cooperative), Michael Sligh (Rural Advancement Foundation International and the Social Justice in Agriculture Project), and Cecil Wright (Organic Valley/ CROPP Co-operative). This approved document represents the principles for Domestic Fair Trade as envisioned by the Domestic Fair Trade Working Group and will guide our work together toward a more socially just, democratically accountable and environmentally sustainable agriculture. They are now being distributed to the wider community in an effort to encourage dialogue and action on these issues, as a declaration of support for like-minded organizations and individuals, and an invitation to join with us in this work.

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