Even if you’re just embarking on the journey of ethical shopping, you’ve likely encountered the terms “fair trade” and “direct trade.” But what do these terms mean exactly, and how do they help us shop more ethically?
Both fair trade and direct trade are initiatives designed to source products without exploiting workers, especially those workers in underdeveloped countries. While the two concepts are similar, they aren’t fully interchangeable. Direct trade is less clearly defined and regulated than fair trade, and as a result it can be difficult to identify direct trade companies through which to shop.
Read on to learn more about the practice of direct trade and six of our top recommendations for direct trade companies in the developing world that you can support with confidence.
Direct Trade vs. Fair Trade
The fair trade movement is governed by 10 principles set forward by the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO). These 10 principles include practices such as transparency and accountability, good working conditions, no forced or child labor, fair payment, and respect for the environment. Verified fair trade businesses and products must adhere to fair trade principles and regulatory standards.
Direct trade, on the other hand, has no such defining principles or regulations. Instead, it rests on individual organizations to interpret and apply its moniker.
In essence, direct trade means purchasing goods directly from those who make them. This eliminates any middle men — including those middlemen who would usually regulate the fair treatment of workers. With that said, eliminating middlemen doesn’t mean that direct trade companies are cutting corners on fair treatment of workers.
On the contrary, direct trade companies often commit to going “beyond fair trade standards” by paying more than the mandated fair trade wages to help improve the quality of goods produced. Many direct trade companies work with people in the developing world, but others source their products from farmers and artisans within the USA as well.
So how can you know if the goods that you’re purchasing are direct trade? Rather than looking for a verified label, check on the company’s website to verify that its products are purchased directly from the people who make them and that the company is committed to empowering those people to improve their goods and local economy.
Direct Trade Coffee
When most people think of direct trade — or fair trade, for that matter — the first product that comes to mind is coffee. Direct trade coffee sellers purchase their coffee beans directly from coffee farmers, meaning the full price of the beans goes directly to those farmers. Here are some direct trade coffee companies who work with farmers in the developing world that we recommend.
Hope Coffee is a Christian, mission-oriented coffee company that buys its coffee directly from farmers in Guatemala, Mexico, and Honduras. Proceeds from coffee and other products purchased through Hope Coffee also help support the nonprofit Create Hope, which aims to provide water, shelter, and education to impoverished communities.
Christian coffee company Kingdom Growers sources its coffee directly from farmers in the developing world. It also has programs that support the rebuilding of local farms after natural disasters.
Direct Trade Chocolate
The other most common direct trade product is chocolate. Like coffee companies, direct trade chocolate companies source their key ingredients (like cacao) directly from farmers. Here are some of our favorite chocolate companies that trade directly with farmers in the developing world.
Founded by a father and daughter team, Askinosie Chocolate sources the cacao for its handmade chocolates directly from farmers in the Philippines, Amazonia, Tanzania, and Ecuador. It places special emphasis on supporting and empowering female farmers.
Taza Chocolate is not only a direct trade company, but also a pioneer of the movement. As noted on their website, they created the first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program in the chocolate industry. They’re also committed to transparently paying higher than fair trade standards to their direct trade sources.
Other Direct Trade Goods from the Developing World
While coffee and chocolate are the most well-known direct trade products, there are others available. Here are a few recommendations for other direct trade goods sourced from the developing world.
Tealet is a wholesale network of tea growers and providers, all directly sourced from all over the world. While not all of their teas are sourced from farms in the developing world, many of them are.
Local Farmers Markets
While farmers markets aren’t one singular business, they tend to exist in most developed cities. These markets are havens for locally-sourced products, and stands are usually manned by the vendors themselves. When visiting farmers market stands, be sure to strike up a conversation with the vendor to verify that the product is being sold directly, not through a middleman.
For instance, a booth that sells African masks could be manned by a brother or other trusted relative who works in direct sync with the company’s producers in Africa. However, the same booth could also be manned by an unrelated person who sources masks for unethically low prices in Africa, then resells them at marked up prices in developed nations.
The best way to verify which type of booth you’ve encountered is to talk with the vendors themselves! Ask them about their company, methods, and story.
More Than Fair
By shopping direct trade, you ensure that artisans and farmers in the developing world are compensated beyond the minimum requirements of fair trade. You can also be sure that the business’s relationship with these artisans and farmers is focused on improving the workers’ quality of life and the quality of their products.
Ready to start making a difference? The Anchored Purpose Box is on a mission to make a change in the least developed countries by supporting local nonprofits and artisans in those nations. Join our mission today, and start changing lives while learning more about the cultures around you.