Fair Trade Myths

As awareness of fair trade grows, so do misconceptions. These are some popular myths about fair trade and the realities behind them.


Myth: Fair Trade is about paying developed world wages in the developing world.

Reality: Wages are designed to provide fair compensation based on the true cost of production, and are not based on North American wage standards.

Fair wages are determined by a number of factors, including:

  • The amount of time, skill, and effort involved in production
  • Minimum and living wages where products are made
  • The purchasing power in a community or area
  • Other costs of living in the local context

Myth: Fair Trade siphons off American jobs to other countries.

Reality: Fair trade seeks to improve the lives of the poorest of the poor who frequently lack alternative sources of income. Most fair trade craft products stem from cultures and traditions which are not represented in North American production. Most fair trade food products do not have North American-based alternatives.

Also, as North American fair trade organizations grow as successful small businesses, they employ more and more individuals in their communities.


Myth: Fair Trade is anti-globalization.

Reality: International exchange lies at the heart of fair trade. Fair trade organizations seek to maximize the positive elements of globalization that connect people, communities, and cultures through products and ideas. At the same time, they seek to minimize the negative elements that result in lower labor, social, and environmental standards which hide the true costs of production.


Myth: Fair Trade is a form of charity.

Reality: Fair trade promotes positive and long-term change through trade-based relationships which build self-sufficiency. Its success depends on independent, successfully-run organizations and businesses–not on handouts. While many fair trade organizations support charitable projects in addition to their work in trade, the exchange of goods remains the key element of their work.


Myth: Fair Trade results in more expensive goods for the consumer.

Reality: Most fair trade products are competitively priced in relation to their conventional counterparts. Fair trade organizations work directly with producers, cutting out middlemen, so they can keep products affordable for consumers and return a greater percentage of the price to the producers.


Myth: Fair trade results in low quality products for the consumer.

Reality: While handmade products naturally include some variation, fair trade organizations continuously work to improve quality and consistency. Through direct and long-term relationships, producers and fair trade organizations dialogue about consumer needs and create high quality products. Fair traders have received awards at the international Cup of Excellence and Roaster of the Year competitions, SustainAbility in Design, the New York Home Textile Show, and other venues.


Myth: Fair trade refers only to coffee and chocolate.

Reality: Fair trade encompasses a wide variety of agricultural and handcrafted goods, including baskets, clothing, cotton, home and kitchen decor, jewelry, rice, soap, tea, toys, and wine. While coffee was the first agricultural product to be certified fair trade in 1988, fair trade handcrafts have been sold since 1946.