Fair Trade, fundamentally, is a response to the failure of conventional trade to deliver sustainable livelihoods and development opportunities to people in the poorest countries of the world; this is evidenced by the two billion of our fellow citizens who, despite working extremely hard, survive on less than $2 per day. Poverty and hardship limit people’s choices while market forces tend to further marginalise and exclude them. This makes them vulnerable to exploitation, whether as farmers and artisans in family-based production units (hereafter “producers”) or as hired workers (hereafter “workers”) within larger businesses.

While this raison d’être underlies all Fair Trade initiatives, it is expressed in a diverse range of practical activities and programmes in order to better respond to the particular needs and circumstances of the people targeted by each initiative. Clearly one mode of operation cannot address all the problems experienced in different product sectors (from coffee to crafts), geographic locations (from Mali to Mexico) or stages of production (from farmer to factory worker).

Fair Trade therefore aims to be consistent at the level of principles and values but flexible at the level of implementation and this presents challenges in defining the concept in practical and concrete processes that can be applied universally. However, understanding of the underlying principles of Fair Trade is crucial, as adoption of processes in isolation from those principles, risks losing an important element of the overall philosophy that has been developed through experience and dialogue by Fair Trade Organizationsover many years. This is analogous to trends in the field of wider corporate social responsibility, where there is increasing acceptance that effective compliance requires genuine commitment. In Fair Trade, it is unquestionable that effectiveness is enhanced not just through what an organisation does, but also why and how they do it.

This statement aims to provide a single international reference point for Fair Trade through a concise explanation of Fair Trade principles and the two main routes by which they are implemented. It is also intended to set the foundations for future dialogue and co-operation among Fair Trade Organizations – and between those organisations and other actors – in order that Fair Trade fully develops its potential to secure greater equity in international trade.

The Charter of Fair Trade continues and includes further sections on ‘Common vision’, ‘Fair Trade definition’, ‘Core Principles’, ‘An additional Fair Trade dimension to labour rights’, ‘Implementation – distinct approaches to Fair Trade’ and ‘Fair Trade is unique’Click HERE to download a full copy of the Charter.

1 Fair Trade Organizations are organizations of which Fair Trade is part of their mission and constitutes the core of their objectives and activities.  They are actively engaged in supporting producers, raising awareness for Fair Trade and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practices of ordinary international trade. WFTO is the global network of Fair Trade Organizations.