Choose Fair-Trade Goods for Your Family

In an ideal world, stores would only carry goods that are healthy for people and the planet. Until then, we must read labels and choose with care.

Many of us know how to find fair-trade chocolate, coffee, tea and bananas. Yet few know that they can also fair-trade lip balm, lotions, flowers, clothing and sporting equipment. Soccer balls are great for children, but they shouldn’t be made by children.

What Does Fair-Trade Mean?

Fair trade helps promote sustainable agriculture around the world. Farmers are paid for what they grow, based on internationally-recognized standards on wages; labour rights; working conditions and prices. The practice supports farming co-ops, housing, health and safety standards. Fair trade also means no child labour (workers under the age of 15, as defined by the International Labour Organization).

The dollars you spend on fair trade products enables children to go to school; provides safer working condition and help communities to thrive. The fair-trade certification system also prohibits GMOs and limits the use of agrochemicals.

What Fair-Trade Products Can I Buy?

Coffee: It’s the second most-traded commodity on Earth after oil! Growers have cleared millions of acres of land worldwide and some use toxic pesticides and GMO varieties to increase production.

Songbirds that summer in Canada usually spend winters in coffee-growing latitudes. Our coffee consumption threatens much of their habitat. When you choose coffee that has been triple-certified: fair trade, organic and shade-grown, you are helping birds and other species.

Chocolate: Growers of cocoa — the chocolate bean — have also cleared millions of acres worldwide thus forcing out forest inhabitants, including boreal birds. In sub-Saharan Africa, 30 per cent of children under age 15 are labourers often in agricultural activities. These realities build a strong case for choosing  only certified fair-trade chocolate.

Flowers: A conventional floral bouquet may be grown by children in a country far away, under nasty, pesticide-laden working conditions. Plant seeds for long-lasting happiness by selecting fair-trade flowers or potted plants that restrict certain agrochemicals; pay fair wages and avoid child labour.

Clothing: The opposite of fair-trade threads is “fast fashion” that entices us to buy more for less. But cheap clothing and accessories are no bargain. They are not made to last.

You may be surprised to know that some low-priced items are more likely to contain lead — so beware of bright, shiny handbags and wallets. Beading and sequins can also indicate possible child labour has been involved.

In the book, Magnifeco: Your Head-to-Toe Guide to Ethical Fashion and Non-toxic Beauty, Kate Black says that when we pay less, we also get less: less transparency and accountability, and lower ethical standards and quality.

Fair-trade clothing brands commit to worker well-being; fair prices to suppliers; transparency; accountability; economic opportunities and respect for the environment (organic or low-pesticide production).

Sports balls: Choose certified fair-trade soccer balls, volleyballs and basketballs. These hand-stitched balls are made-to-last and PVC-free.

Manufacturers must meet certain social, economic and environmental standards. Fair-trade premiums contribute toward programs that help employees and their families including eye exams; diabetes tests; school supplies and clean drinking water for schools.

Watch For These Two Labels

Fairtrade International (green, black and blue logo), a group of 25 organizations, that certifies international fair-trade standards which addresses the imbalance of power in trading relationships, unstable markets and the injustices of conventional trade.

They connect disadvantaged producers to consumers; promote fair-trading conditions and empower producers. Learn more at

Fair Trade USA (black, white and green logo) is the leading third-party certifier of fair trade products in the United States. This organization uses a market-based approach to give farmers fair prices; safer working conditions, and community resources thus contributing to fair, healthy and sustainable lives. Learn more at

Make informed decisions to reduce your environmental footprint. Understand labels and claims found on everyday products. Search for certified eco-labels such as fair trade. Not only will you become a sustainable shopper, you will also empower and help people around the world.

Lindsay, joined the David Suzuki Foundation more than a decade ago, with a Zoology degree and a passion for nature. As David Suzuki’s “Queen of Green” she leads and inspires others to live gently on the Earth. Canada’s “green living” expert is mom of a preschooler and throws great neighbourhood block parties!

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