MIAMI (CBS4) — Fair trade products are catching on in popularity as more and more consumers put their money where their conscience is. But as the dollars flow, so does the controversy over companies who are pretending to be fair trade when they’re not.
Sarah Griffis loves the idea of buying products that she knows will make a difference in the lives of those who create them.
“It’s a great cause to support,” said Griffis, who shops for Fair Trade products when she can.
“Fair Trade is a different way of doing business, in which buyers and sellers work directly with farmers and crafts people in developing countries to make sure that they have a sustainable way of earning a living,” explained Renee Bowers of the Fair Trade Federation.
More Fair Trade certified products than ever are now sold in the US, from 6,000 in 2009 to 9,500 in 2010, and company requests for the labels are skyrocketing.
It sounds like great news except the growing popularity of Fair Trade products is also attractive to those with less honest intent.
“What’s going right now on in the Fair Trade industry is what we’re calling “fairwashing.” It’s a play off of the term “greenwashing,” where some companies are claiming to be Fair Trade and may not necessarily be Fair Trade so the onus falls on the consumer to ask the right questions, find out why is it Fair Trade, what makes it Fair Trade?” explained Megy Karydes of World Shoppe.com.
There are logos and certifications the products and companies selling them can apply for from groups, such as the Fair Trade Federation or Fair Trade USA. But some companies have decided to exploit the label and make false claims. Critics say it is happening more and more.
“There really are no penalties because there is no legal governing body for Fair Trade, so to speak,” said Bowers.
In some cases, a company may have one Fair Trade product among dozens of others, but promote the entire brand as being Fair Trade.
“Having 2-percent raw materials in your bath and body product does not make you a Fair Trade product, but using that label on your packaging, may give consumers the false impression that their products are Fair Trade,” said Karydes.
The Fair Trade Federation suggests consumers who care about finding Fair Trade products look for labels and certifications but then dig deeper.
Some of the biggest product categories for Fair Trade include coffee, flowers and produce.