The Mainstreaming of Fair Trade

Oct 19, 2011 3:00 PM ET
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"The Mainstreaming of Fair Trade" on Fast Company

If you've swigged Honest Tea, eaten a spoonful of Ben and Jerry's, or sipped on a Starbucks drink, chances are that you've consumed a Fair Trade product. And while you may not know exactly what it means for a product to be certified Fair Trade, you probably know that it's a good thing.

You probably also have noticed the proliferation of Fair Trade products recently--there are over 10,000 of them on U.S. store shelves, and in the second quarter of 2011, sales of Fair Trade certified products skyrocketed 63%. After 13 years of existence in the U.S (it has been around longer in Europe), Fair Trade is going mainstream.

Paul Rice, the CEO of Fair Trade USA (and former Fast Company cover model), believes that it has taken off for two reasons: an increase in consumer awareness and concern around social and environmental issues, and the fact that many people are realizing that the things they consume can have a large ripple effect.

"You see this rapidly growing desire for people to know where their stuff came from," says Rice. "I think this rising consciousness is leading to a phenomenon that we call the Conscious Consumer. Depending on whose data you read, that consumer segment is anywhere from 15% to 40% of American adult shoppers." This is a group that is looking for socially and environmentally responsible products on a daily basis--and they're willing to pay a little bit more (a five to 10 cent premium) for a product that makes them feel good.

On the corporate side, Fair Trade certification has grown because of an awareness of the ramifications of being caught with a supply chain that's reliant on, say, child labor. Companies all see that the Fair Trade label offers a degree of distinction, especially for the ever-growing Conscious Consumer segment. "Companies are increasingly rethinking how they approach global supply chains and looking for more traceability and more transparency, and that's what Fair Trade does," says Rice.

Click here to read the full article on Fast Company.