The Many Faces of Fair Trade
Enter Email

 Watch the Video


March 1, 2011

In the movement to distinguish fair trade crafts from mass manufactured global goods we strive to know the faces of production. The weathered faces of women weaving in the highlands; families gathered together around workshop tables carrying on a traditional art; teams of buyers and designers bent over design sheets and order forms. The closer one gets to fair trade the more diverse its faces become. It is critical that in defining fair trade craft standards and labeling processes that we identify this diversity as part of the reality and strength of the fair trade movement.

Through my work as a buyer for a fair trade craft wholesaler and retailer, working directly with artisan communities, it has become clear that in order to practice fair trade I must recognize its different faces:
1) the independent artisan
2) the small family business
3) the community cooperative
4) the large scale fair trade exporter
Each face represents an important and interconnected sector of the fair trade movement.


1) The independent artisan

The face of the independent artisan belongs to Louis, a traditional retablo artist (Latin American devotional painter) who designs, molds, paints and finishes each piece in his home on the outskirts of Ayacucho, Peru. His life-long training allows him to produce crafts for the local market and limited export. His access to the global market is limited and his survival depends on his connection to a small network of colleagues who work together to create innovative designs, set prices and make connections.



2) The Small Family Business


The face of the small family business belongs to that of Tito Medina and four generations of gourd carvers. Tito, his parents, siblings and community members work together in Cochas, Peru to keep a family tradition alive in their production of decorative gourds. In building the family business, decision-making power and benefits are shared amongst the members. Again market access is highly competitive and limited to local connections and a few overseas contacts. Their success depends on the exclusivity of their designs, the capacity of their production and the chance to build sustainable connections and markets.


3) The Community Cooperative

The face of the community cooperative belongs to Hilos y Colores, an association of six working groups, spread throughout the highlands of Peru, each of which has an elected president who works closely with the next to represent group needs and coordinate production of beautiful wool weavings in each community. Production depends on a solid democratic process in decision-making and profit-sharing, which connects the rural indigenous communities. Labor is shared amongst the whole community, men and women, old and young, so as to engage and elevate all members. This type of organization focuses on sustainable community based enterprise in which members take ownership over production and share in its proceeds.





4) The Large Scale Fair Trade Exporter

The face of the large scale fair trade exporter belongs to Allpa – a WFTO (World Fair Trade Organization) member – that has been working with artisan communities throughout Peru in the production of handmade crafts for over twenty-three years. Allpa has more than 100 workshops that produce hundreds of different items such as gourds, contemporary weavings, ceramics, bags, scarves, gloves and baskets. The artisans are given designs and Allpa provides consistent support, follow-up, technical assistance, financing and training. Decisions are made at the executive level and labor is organized from the top-down. Production is competitive. The most efficient weavers are given the most work and the most successful designs are thus reproduced at the lowest price. Through this process Allpa is able to produce market responsive, high quality products with constantly evolving designs, which provides sustainable growth and income for a wide range of artisans.


Even though the large scale exporter is the most competitive source of fair trade products, and most commonly recognized by international fair trade member organizations, it is important to remember that designs and traditional production processes are also sourced and sustained at the level of the independent artisan, family business and community cooperative. Each of these fair trade craft faces works to keep traditional craftsmanship alive.

Download PDF




Fair Cities


    What will the just economy of the future look like? We asked for your suggestions for cities across North America that are living examples of fair trade values in action. Is yours on the list? MINNEAPOLIS/ST PAUL, Minnesota Minneapolis-St. Paul is a hotbed of fair trade activity. For decades now, local nonprofits like the […]

It’s Time for Wages With Dignity


by Ryan Johnson Quietly, hidden behind the headlines that feature presidential candidates bemoaning the state of our country and our economy, voters in several states are no longer waiting on politicians. They’re taking matters into their own hands and launching minimum wage ballot initiatives to create the economic change people sorely need. The impetus for […]

The Business Case for Raising the Minimum Wage


by David Bronner At Dr. Bronner’s, the company I run with my family, we believe that we can only prosper in the long run if we contribute to the prosperity of society as a whole. It’s why we strive to compensate all our staff fairly, cap executive compensation at five times the lowest paid position, […]

“Berta Did Not Die. She Multiplied.”


A Tribute to the Work of Berta Cáceres, Indigenous Rights Leader by Ryan Zinn Berta Cáceres was murdered in her home on March 3, 2016 in the community of La Esperanza, Honduras. Berta cofounded the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) in 1993, a grassroots organization that struggled for indigenous rights […]

Lucky – A Guest Worker’s Story


By David Mohrmann Though he had not wanted to leave his wife and children for six months, had not wanted to sleep on a cot in a room with three other men, had not wanted to work long days under difficult conditions, Miguel said he was one of the lucky ones. At least he had […]

Fair Chance Employment Benefits Us All


By Terrell Hall Earning a living wage through gainful employment is crucial to the huge number of Americans struggling to make ends meet, including the 630,000 women and men who will come home from prison this year. A staggering amount of employment challenges await the formerly incarcerated because of their felony convictions. Particularly hard hit […]

Policy Corner: Farms in California Prepare for $15/Hour Minimum Wage


By Kerstin Lindgren California legislators, responding to the growing Fight for $15 and Raise the Wage movements, passed a law earlier this year that will guarantee all workers in the state a minimum wage of $15 an hour. This is great news for farmworkers in the country’s largest agricultural state. But will it be a […]

From Weaving to Seed-Saving, Climate Change, and Fighting Monsanto


A Guatemalan Woman’s Story of Empowerment Through Organizing an interview with Yolanda Sebastiana Calgua Morales Working together in cooperatives is an empowering aspect of the fair trade movement for farmers and artisans around the world. On a recent trip to Guatemala, Dana Geffner, Executive Director of Fair World Project, sat down with Yolanda Sebastiana Calgua […]

Radio CATA


A Radio Station to Empower the Latino Community By Meghan Hurley In November of 2015, CATA, The Farmworkers Support Committee, officially launched Radio CATA, its own Spanish language non-commercial low-power FM radio station in Bridgeton, New Jersey. The radio station began as a way to reach out to the immigrant community and engage them in […]

Small is Beautiful: But Can Its Rules be Applied to the Fashion Industry?


Contributing writer, Safia Minney, Founder and Director of People Tree, argues that we must make and buy clothes while being conscious of their humanity and sustainability. People Tree is working with small-scale organic farmer, artisan and tailor fair trade groups in eight countries. This year is People Tree’s 25th anniversary in Japan where I started […]