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How to Start a Fair Trade Business

From handmade baskets, rugs and jewelry to sustainably grown coffee, cocoa beans and dried fruits, goods produced in developing countries are making their way to the United States.

Fair trade, a global movement which enables trading between workers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America with North American and European fair trade organizations and sellers, is helping thousands of people in underdeveloped countries.

Why Start a Fair Trade Business?

Fair trade business owners are helping support and improve the lives of farmers, artisans and other workers in developing countries by buying and selling goods, arts & crafts and food produced within the principles of fair trade, which include providing fair wages, providing good working conditions and practicing sustainable environmental practices, according to the World Fair Trade Organization.

As the fair trade movement expands, consumers are hearing more about global organizations such as Starbucks, Dove Chocolate and Ben & Jerry’s using fair trade ingredients like coffee and tea. However, with the help of fair trade certifying bodies and membership organizations, anyone can start a fair trade business. You don’t have to be a multi-billion-dollar company to make a difference.

LivAfrica: One of Many Small Fair Trade Businesses

When Sita Monti opened her shop, LivAfrika, in 2013, she admitted that she never wanted to own her own business, according to an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. However, her hobby and mission to help women in South Africa sparked the need and drive to become a small business owner. During several church mission trips, Monti brought back handcrafted jewelry and crafts to sell here and then send money back to a partner church in South Africa.

“Several of these gifted artisans are grandmothers (Gogo’s) who are raising money to support their orphaned grandchildren. Others are mothers who want to earn money so they can afford to send their sons and daughters to school, provide medicines to their children, protect them from malaria and other deadly diseases,” Monti wrote on LivAfrika’s website.

What started as a hobby blossomed into a fair trade business that allows Monti and her customers to help South African women provide for their families.

Ultimately, anyone wanting to start a fair trade business should inject passion into their work, find a cause and develop a mission for their business.

How to Become a Fair Trade Business

Starting a new business can be intimidating. However, there are several resources available to those willing to take the leap. First, start with learning more about products available and organizations that can help you.

Fair Trade Resources

Below is a list of fair trade certifiers, which audit supply chains and products against fair trade criteria and fair trade membership organizations, which evaluate organizations and retailers on their commitment to fair trade principles.

Certifiers include:

Membership organizations include:

Several of the organizations above provide key tips on how to start a fair trade business. For example, Fair Trade Federation members have prepared advice, do’s and don’ts and an introduction to becoming a fair trade business owner. You can find this information listed on their website under “Start a Fair Trade Business.”

Fair Trade Suppliers

Once you have researched and learned more about fair trade and the resources available to you, you can sort through fair trade wholesalers. The Fair Trade Federation provides a detailed list that includes wholesale suppliers that sell food, clothing, jewelry, housewares, rugs, musical instruments and more. A few on the list include:

  • Acacia Creations – an organization with production headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya that works with artisans in six countries.
  • Malia Designs – a handbag company based out of Cambodia with a mission to support economic opportunity for women and support organizations that fight human trafficking.
  • Level Ground Trading – an organization that worked directly with 5,000 small-scale farmers in 10 countries selling coffee, tea, dried fruit and more.

Simply put, what do you want your business to achieve? Who do you want to help and why? Developing a mission that aligns with your passion, desire to help and business knowledge and experience is vital to starting a small business of your own.

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