Let’s Talk Tea for a Minute


I get asked all kinds of questions about fair trade certifications and why fair trade sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Fair Trade is a complex movement and the term means different things to different people and organizations.

I’ve finally been able to put my finger on it like this: Fair Trade Certified seeks to make systems already in place and based in colonialism and imperialism more fair. So if you see the term “fair trade plantation” or “fair trade factory” you may ask yourself the question, “Can a plantation or factory really be made fair?” Well, I hope so, because there are a lot of people seeking to do it. And I do hold dear the hope that it makes lives better for people working in those conditions, and at least feel reassured that there will be no child labor, slavery, or dangerous working conditions when a product is Fair Trade Certified.

However, Fair Trade Verification, through organizations like Fair Trade Federation,  World Fair Trade Organization, and Fair for Life, is relationship-based fair trade. This means we seek to be partners with small farmers and artisans by providing them with a market and product design and feedback when needed. Organizations and businesses are held to a standard which ensures fair wages, safe working conditions, gender equity, environmental sustainability, no child labor, and more. It is a small way of doing business, but a more fair and sustainable way in my opinion.

What does this have to do with tea? I stopped drinking tea for many years, and I wasn’t really sure why. Then I realized it’s because I made the switch to fair trade teas and I wasn’t really wowed. Unfortunate. So I stopped drinking tea. But a friend has been blogging about her teas and I decided to go back and pick up where I left off with tea. I have always loved Numi teas. They are fair trade (certified not verified) and organic. It’s not the best model of fair trade, but it’s tea I like. My mug, however, is made by fair trade artisans under the model of relationship-based fair trade.

This may be a simplistic view of fair trade models, but sometimes you need that to cut through complexity. As with anything, on the ground, this may look different in different places and with different people. There is no one-size-fits-all definition of fair trade. If you want to learn more, check out the International Fair Trade Charter.

I remembered to read my The Just Craft email this morning, and I had some positive feedback in there from participants and listeners. Thank you! I’m excited about my January podcast idea and hope to have it done before the end of the month! It isn’t about fair trade, per se, but it is all about relationships!

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Alissa Head

Knitter. Fiber Artist. Fair Trade Warrior.

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