'Fairtrade' and 'Fair Trade' - What is the difference?

'Fairtrade' and 'Fair Trade' - What is the difference?

Feb 4, 2019

Fairtrade Fortnight is coming up at the end of February (from 25 Feb to 10 March), but is it 'Fairtrade' or 'Fair Trade' (or 'fair trade', 'fairtrade', 'Fair trade' or 'FairTrade')... it’s a mine-field! CDEC volunteer and fair trade expert Joe Human sheds some light on what each term means, not just to us but to those striving for a better and fairer income, and how these terms are used and often misused, sometimes deliberately.

The term 'Fairtrade' (one word, capital F) is used to describe the certification and labelling system governed by Fairtrade International (based in Bonn) to which the British Fairtrade Foundation belongs. It works by:

  •  setting standards*, certifying and auditing producers (usually poor farmers and their organisations) in the South, and their products (eg coffee);
  •  licensing those products in consuming countries.

(* Standards cover such things as the involvement of women, sustainable farming, labour practices, transparency and product quality.  Certifying and auditing is done against these standards.)

All products marketed through the Fairtrade system carry the FAIRTRADE Mark (right), or a variant of it. The Mark guarantees two things:

  1. A fair and stable price for the producers. 
  2. A premium for social and business investment for their organisations (eg farmers’ cooperatives).

If a product claims to be 'Fairtrade' (one word, capital F) but doesn’t carry the Mark, then its claim is bogus. 

Most products bearing the Mark are food (eg bananas, honey, and chocolate) and drink (eg tea, coffee and wine), but there are also Fairtrade sports balls, Fairtrade cotton, Fairtrade cut flowers, Fairtrade beauty and cleaning products and Fairtrade gold, platinum and silver.  

'Fair Trade' (two words, capital F, capital T) is used in a number of ways, but mainly to describe any system of trading based on the explicit principle of being 'fair' to poor producers (as 'free trade' so often is not).  

It is generally taken to include both Fairtrade and other products which do not have the FAIRTRADE Mark, such as many craft goods sold by Traidcraft, and other Alternative Trading Organisations.  Traidcraft label all their products, both those with and those without the Fairtrade Mark, as ‘Fair Trade’. 

The monitoring of Fair Trade businesses which market goods not carrying the FAIRTRADE Mark is done through such bodies as the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) (see logo right).  Shops selling these goods in UK usually belong to British Association of Fair Trade Shops (BAFTS).  If a business signs up to the Ten Principles of Fair Trade then it can be said to be Fair Trade.  

'Fair Trade' is sometimes used as an alternative term to 'Trade Justice'. Dedicated campaigning organisations, such as the Trade Justice Movement and Global Justice Now, focus on the issues of international trade and are sources of information and calls to action for Trade Justice campaigners.

The terms 'fair trade', 'fairtrade', 'Fair trade' and 'FairTrade' can mean whatever their users want them to mean, to imply that they are trading fairly, but not necessarily to any agreed internationally recognised standards.  

So always ask what they mean when you come across them. Likewise ethical.

Joe Human