Show Me Your Label: A Guide To Fair Trade Labels

Have you ever wondered what exactly to look for when trying to buy Fair Trade? It can  be a little confusing to decipher the labels or perceived rhetoric about “Fair Trade” and get down to finding the actual products available in the market. But once you know what to look for, it actually becomes quite easy.

Certified Fair Trade products are not available in every type of merchandise that we may think of. There is a small but comparable list of things available at this point and the best way to find those products is by looking for the “label”. The above photo is a collage of all the Certified Fair Trade and Fair Trade related logos that I am aware of. What is to follow is a listing of each logo and a brief description of what they mean and information about the parent organization. I hope you’ll find this helpful and that it may take some of the guesswork out of shopping Fair Trade.

The “Fair For Life” and “For Life” logos come to us from the . Their states, “’Fair for life’ is a brand neutral third party certification programme for social accountability and fair trade in agricultural, manufacturing and trading operations. The programme complements existing fair trade certification systems.” The agency that provides the provides the seal and certification is IMO, the Institute for Marketecology. IMO as an agency is responsible for inspection, certification and quality assurance of eco-friendly products. The seal and the Social & FairTrade Certification Programme were developed “in response to the increasing demands of consumers, producers, processors, retailers and their global suppliers” by the Institute for Marketecology (IMO) and the Swiss Bio-Foundation in 2006. ” The “fair for life – Social & FairTrade certified by IMO” certification seal guarantees that the production complies at all stages with the social responsibility as well as fairtrade criteria of the Fair for Life Social & FairTrade Certification Programme.” Goods bearing the Fair For Life logo must have a majority of ingredients from fair trade sources. Products with the Fair For Life seal include fruit, wine, oils, chocolate, tea, coffee, rice, nuts, flowers, spices and cosmetics. Companies include Dr. Bronners soaps, Theo Chocolates, and Guayaki Teas.

This is the former Fair For Life logo but it may still be on products in the marketplace. Fair For Life updated their logo in 2011 and is fazing out the old one. Look for it as well as the orange Fair For Life logo above.

Above quotes taken from.


certifies Fairly Traded and Organic coffee, tea, chocolate bars, cocoa, bananas and almonds. It’s a co-op that been in existence for over 25 years and works to empower both farmers and consumers. The Equal Exchange worker-owned co-op is based in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts. It’s “mission is to build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound, to foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers and to demonstrate, through their success, the contribution ofworker cooperatives and Fair Trade to a more equitable, democratic and sustainable world.” As a company, Equal Exchange has been at the forefront of the Fair Trade movement for many years. In the mid-80’s they were the first to introduce Fair Trade coffee to U.S. grocery stores. In 2004 they introduced Fair Trade sugar as a stand-alone product in the U.S. Equal Exchange also helps educate consumers and the public about Fair Trade with school curriculum for grades 4-9 and has an interfaith program to help churches, schools and other non-profits raise awareness and develop fundraising opportunities.

Above quotes taken from the


(also known as FLO) is a non-profit association consisting of “25 organizations working to secure a better deal for producers. From their headquarters in Bonn, Germany, they set international Fairtrade standards and support Fairtrade producers.” The 25 members are based in different countries and include groups like , , and . “The 25 members around the world produce or promote products that carry the . They developed the Fairtrade labeling model and are responsible for decision making within Fairtrade International (FLO). Additionally, the members include three producer networks, 19 labeling initiatives, two marketing organizations, and one associate member. There are 13 categories of certification within Fair Trade International – Cocoa, Coffee, Cotton, Flowers, Fruit, Gold, Grains (Rice & Quinoa) , Spices and Herbs, Nuts and Oils, Sports Balls, Sugar, Tea and Wine.

Fair Trade International defines Fair Trade as, “a different way of doing business. It’s about making principles of fairness and decency mean something in the marketplace. FLO seeks to change the terms of trade for the products we buy – to ensure the farmers and artisans behind those products get a better deal. For consumers and businesses, it’s also about information. Fair Trade is a way for all of us to identify products that meet our values so we can make choices that have a positive impact on the world.”

Above quotes taken from Fair Trade International .


, formerly known as Transfair USA and formerly in association with Transfair Canada, is the most widely known certification group. They are a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization and the labeling agency responsible for the “Fair Trade Certified” black and white logo most often seen on coffee, chocolate, or herbs. The Fair Trade USA certification principles include fair price, fair labor conditions, direct trade, democratic and transparent organization, community development, and environmental sustainability. The Mission of Fair Trade USA is to enable sustainable development and community empowerment by cultivating a more equitable global trade model that benefits farmers, workers, consumers, industry and the earth. To achieve its mission, the organization certifies and promotes Fair Trade products and they have over 600 licensed partners.  “ transactions between U.S. companies and their international suppliers to guarantee that the farmers and workers producing Fair Trade Certified goods are paid fair prices and wages, work in safe conditions, protect the environment and receive community development funds to empower and uplift their communities.”

Fair Trade USA certifies individual products that a company may carry. Meaning, the company may have only one line of product that uses Fair Trade ingredients or Fair Trade practices while the companies other product lines do not have the same standards. Therefore, the product may meet Fair Trade requirements but the company most likely does not.

Fair Trade USA recently updated its logo. The above logo is the one it will begin rolling out onto new packages but the old logo may still be widely available in the market place. Look for both when shopping for Fair Trade.



Want to know EXACTLY where your coffee comes from? Enter Cooperative Coffees seal. Cooperative Coffees is the country’s largest cooperative of independent Fair Trade roasters. Together with they have launched a seal and program to track coffee from farmer to roaster. The goal is total transparency. “The site functions as a forum to educate people about extremely rigorous approach to Fair Trade. A key component of the project was to develop a seal that would appear on packaging and “compete” successfully with other seals. Transparency makes fairness possible because it makes hiding the truth impossible. Use this site to trace your coffee or to learn about our deep commitment to a higher standard of trade.” If you see the “Fair Trade Proof” stamp on the packaging of coffee it means that that coffee is fully traceable. Go to & click on the roaster’s name in the drop-down menu to see the contracts, cupping evaluations, bills of lading, & invoices that track the business relationships with each of the company’s suppliers. This is full transparency.

Learn more about the seal


The Fair Trade seal is a RAPUNZEL label. The only products that will bear this label are those distributed by .  RAPUNZEL bears all financial, personal and administrative expenditures. This might mean that there is no third party verification or auditing. All auditing and labeling is done by the parent company, RAPUNZEL. The company states, “HAND IN HAND products may originate from cooperatives, plantations, exporters or processors. Transfair products on the other hand are allocated to certain organizational forms, e.g. sugar may only be purchased from cooperatives. With a Transfair label our cooperation with the Planeta Verde plantation that has done exemplary work for many years would no longer be possible. Special FLO criteria for certain products such as coconut do not yet exist. Therefore, our coco products could not get a Transfair label.”

Above quotes taken from the Rapunzel Hand In Hand


is a Certification and seal covers the social and fairtrade aspects of wild harvested goods. FairWild understand the importance of protection and management of wild-collected natural ingredients and products. They offer “a Total Quality Management System – to assure buyers that FairWild Certified products are sourced and produced in a socially and ecologically sound way.” The FairWild Foundation has developed a set of Standards specific to the foundation that also implements elements of the . “The FairWild Standard assesses the harvest and trade of wild plants against various ecological, social and economic requirements.”

Above quotes taken from the


is a trade association that works with organizations in North America who are committed to Fair Trade. It is a membership based program for businesses and it does not certify products. Members of the Fair Trade Federation pay an annual fee to the FTF in exchange for support and promotion. FTF regularly reviews the members to ensure the associations standards are being met.

Retailer may apply after 180 days of active trading and then annually after that if the following conditions are met:

  • Applicant only buys from importers (not directly from producer organizations) and
  • Applicant has reached at least $20,000 in sales.
  • Strives to only source goods according to the  and , as outlined by FTF.
  • Has been in operation for at least 365 days in either Canada or the United States*       and
  • Passes the Federation’s screening process based on its practice of Fair Trade.

The associations roots trace back to the 1970′s but it was in 1994 that the group incorporated formally as the North American Alterative Trade Organization (NAATO). In 1995, their name was officially changed to the Fair Trade Federation.


The (WFTO), formerly the International Fair Trade Association (IFAT), is the global representative body of over 450 members committed to 100% Fair Trade. The WFTO operates in 75 countries across 5 regions; Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and North American and the Pacific Rim, with elected global and regional boards.  It is the only global network whose members represent the Fair Trade chain from production to sale. WFTO members are organizations differentiated by their 100% Fair Trade commitment to eradicate poverty through sustainable economic development; pioneering social and environmental policy and practice and continual reinvestment in marginalized artisans, farmers and producer communities in some of the most fragile places on earth. Membership of the WFTO is limited to organizations that demonstrate a 100% Fair Trade commitment and apply its .

I hope this helps you in your quest to be an informed Fair Trade consumer.

Oliver’s Market: The View From A Fair Trade Shopper


Oliver’s is a market with three storefronts in the Sonoma County area. I recently visited the store and cataloged the items the store carries that are Certified Fair Trade. While these items are stocked on the shelves at Oliver’s they are available in other markets as well such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. The purpose of this post is to give you a visual to assist you in finding these products at a market near you.

As for, it is one that seems to be concerned with high quality products and support of the local community. It boast a wide variety of Fair Trade products and a giant selection of local goods. The company  declares, “Our mission is to provide the communities we serve with the finest grocery store in the marketplace.To this end, we seek out our customers’ specific needs and tailor our products and services to meet those needs.We carry the largest possible selection of natural, conventional and gourmet products. We carry only the highest quality meat, produce and deli products, buying locally whenever possible.”

Here is a list of the Certified Fair Trade Products that I found…



Ice Cream

Baking Goods


Cold Beverages

Hot Chocolate and Tea


546 East Cotati Ave.
Cotati, CA 94931
(707) 795-9501
Jeff Spackman — Store Director


560 Montecito Center
Santa Rosa, CA 95409
(707) 537-7123
Frank Camilleri — Store Director


461 Stony Point Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95406
(707) 284-3530
Eric Meuse — Store Director 

See additional stores on the map page and find a store in your area

The Changing Face of Starbucks Fair Trade Coffee’s

Is Starbucks fair trade? If you ask this in a Starbucks store, many times you will get a “yes”  from one of the barista’s. If you ask the average person on the street they may not know. And as for me, my answer is a little mixed. No, they are not a Fair Trade company. They do, however, carry a fair trade labeled coffee.

To get into the debate about whether or not Starbucks is good or evil is not what I want to do here. I know that many people choose Starbucks as there shop of choice and that many in the world of Fair Trade choose not to support Starbucks. My goal is to provide those who frequent Starbucks with knowledge and options and encourage a Fair Trade choice.

Starbucks does in fact carry a Fair Trade labeled coffee, although it can be hard to find and it has recently changed. If you are familiar with the coffee giant you may recognize their fair trade coffee as . It was a multi-region, dark roast blend that was available on most of their coffee shop shelves. This line, however, has been discontinued in stores and is now only available on-line. Starbucks has recently introduced a whole new line of roasts and has added a new line of Fair Trade Certified coffee as well: theThe Italian roast, like the line it replaces, is a multi-region dark roast and should be available on most Starbucks store shelves. It may or may not make its way into a grocery store near you.

So just to be clear, the Italian Roast is the only line of Starbucks coffee that is Certified Fair Trade. From their , Starbucks says, ”As one of the largest purchasers of Fair Trade Certified™ coffee, Starbucks is committed to paying fair prices to help give farming families a better life and ensure coffee farms are protected for the future.” Because Starbucks is a giant corporation it is not hard to see that it does in fact buy a large amount of Fair Trade coffee but it only puts that coffee into one line that it sells in its stores.

The good news for Starbucks goers is that there is more than one way to get your hands on some Italian Roast Fair Trade coffee. 1) Consider substituting the Italian Roast for another Starbucks coffee that you purchase and make at home. Most stores should carry the 1lb bags of this roast on their shelves. 2) If not available at your local store, check out. 3) If the store you frequent has a “Clover” machine, ask the barista to brew you a fresh cup with the Italian Roast. All stores should accommodate this request and I have had a “Clover” cup of the Italian Roast in the Healdsburg store. 4) If there is no Clover machine, ask them to brew you a french press cup with the Italian Roast instead. Again, most stores should be willing to accommodate your request and it is more common than you might think.

Is Starbucks as a company Certified Fair Trade? No, but they do carry a Fair Trade Certified line of coffee and it’s possible for you get it in beans, grounds, or freshly brewed at your local store. It’s different than you may remember, no longer Cafe Estima,  but rather Italian Roast. So if you are keen on trying new things, ask for a Clover or french press of this Fair Trade coffee next you visit a Starbucks. And if you were wondering why Starbucks no longer carried the Cafe Estima, now you know that they were not discontinuing all things Fair Trade, but rather changing to a different roast.

Only available on-line

Bittersweet: The Hot Chocolate Experiment

After a cold day at a Norther California beach I promised my nieces and nephew a nice cup of Fair Trade hot chocolate. The excitement level was through the roof. Just the night before we screened the film with the whole family, all 14 of them, including the five children. When they found out we were going to have hot chocolate, and it was Fair Trade Certified, they were buzzing. I on the other hand was a little nervous. I had two varieties of hot chocolate and I had never made either one. This was going to be interesting. It was the first test of an experiment that began with a Christmas party and a group of students.

The experiment seemed simple enough: find a “Fair Trade” alternative for hot chocolate. As I posted before we had some students over to our house for a Christmas party but we were out of hot chocolate. I went to my local Safeway to see if they had a fair trade option but I came up empty handed. So I was determined to see what was out there at some of the different merchants in my area. The experiment took about a month and covered a distance of over 200 miles.

For starters I checked out my local Whole Foods in Santa Rosa and came up with two options: &. They also carried Green & Blacks Hot Chocolate but I didn’t get that variety.

That evening I was going to make both brands. Both required heating up milk on the stove top and stirring in the coco mix. I decided to make the  mix with 1% Milk and the with plain SILK soy milk.  I had kids anxiously waiting and parents wondering if Fair Trade was legit. For such a simple thing I was under a lot of pressure. I heated up the two milk types and started stirring the chocolate. After a few sips I frantically called my wife into the kitchen. Neither were sweet enough, both very heavy on the dark chocolate flavor and the Silk milk was overpowering the flavor of chocolate. This was not good…

I could not salvage the the Silk and combination. It was horrible and I ended up pouring it down the drain. To save the and milk batch I broke out some fair trade sugar to mix in. My mistake was getting a “dark chocolate” variety for kids. It was good, just not rich and smooth. I increased the milk and sugar and eventually came up with a mixture that was suitable to the kids. My wife was the taste tester and helped me avoid a mutiny. My niece Madison said it was the best cup of hot chocolate she had ever tasted. I was a proud uncle!

Since the family was on vacation and we were in a new area I decided to see what other brands of hot chocolate I could find. We were in the Mendocino Coast area and I was able to tour the supermarkets in Gualala, Point Arena, Mendocino and Fort Bragg. The stores that provided the best options were and

The second step of this test happened on a Friday night a couple of days ago. We again had a group of students over to the house and this time we were going to take a full-moon hike out in the woods near our house. The plan was to take some hot chocolate with us and have it when we arrived at the midway point of our hike. I had purchased the variety at the Harvest Market and was thankful that this variety only required hot water for the mix. I mixed it up and put it into a few Thermos containers for our hike. When we reached our midway point in a large clearing we broke out the chocolate and enjoyed the cool evening and clear stars with an awesome cup of hot chocolate in our hands!

For ease of preparation and best taste my vote is for . I still have a few varieties to check out but at least I know that it is out there and I know where to get it. To find out where you can get Fair Trade items in your area, check out my MAP page for a listing of where to buy in California.

A word of caution. Always test a new product before you tell the masses what you are preparing just in case things don’t go as planned. This would have saved me from stressing out about what my nieces and nephew were going to think. Lucky for me things turned out ok.