How to Shop Ethically Through Direct Trade

How to Shop Ethically Through Direct Trade

When you shop direct trade, you ensure that your purchases are actually benefiting the people who made or grew your goods. But because direct trade isn’t concretely defined, you’ll have to do a little extra work to determine if the products you purchase are actually coming directly from the producer.

Direct trade refers to the purchase of products directly from the artisans and farmers who produce them instead of sourcing through multiple intermediaries. It ensures that people are compensated with living wages for their labor, and usually reflects a commitment to go above and beyond Fair Trade standards. 

Read on to learn more about direct trade and how you can support better working conditions worldwide with your purchases.

What Is Direct Trade?

“Direct trade” can be one of two things: 

  1. Trade directly between a producer and a consumer (like at a farmer’s market) 
  2. Trade directly between a producer and a store or other selling agent, who then sells to the consumer

The key part of direct trade is that it strives to cut out intermediaries — sometimes a selling agent is essential, but there should be no more additional parties than that. Like fair trade, direct trade aims to stop the exploitation of workers, especially in developing countries. 

Unlike fair trade, however, direct trade does not have officially specified standards. This lack of an official regulatory body removes what some consider an unnecessary middle man, but it also allows for varied interpretations of direct trade — thereby putting more responsibility on the consumer to stay well-informed. 

It’s far from a perfect system, especially given the potential for third party companies to take advantage of the lack of regulation. But, with a bit of research, it’s clear which companies are truly direct (and which just use marketing gimmicks). And with the enormous benefit that direct trade brings to local producers, the effort to research and support a true direct trade brand is more than worth it.

After all, at its heart, direct trade is about establishing lasting relationships between producers and buyers. These relationships encourage and empower both parties, and enable the producer to create better quality products. 

By purchasing products that have been sourced directly from artisans and farmers in developing countries, you can be confident that those people are being fairly compensated: the price that you pay isn’t spread between tens of middlemen who each take a percentage. This full payment gives producers further support to continue operating their businesses and paying their laborers fairly.

While the practice began with a focus on the coffee industry specifically, it has since branched out into other products such as tea, gemstones, handcrafts, and more.

How to Find & Identify Direct Trade Companies

Since direct trade isn’t standardized, you won’t find an official certification label on direct trade products like you will for fair trade products. Instead, you’ll need to look into where — and who — the products are sourced from. Websites that sell direct trade products will typically say as much, and they often include a section on their site introducing the farmers or artisans whose products they are selling.

Because an important part of direct trade selling is that relationship with the original producer, a company that operates through direct trade should make it clear they prioritize that relationship. If a company doesn’t provide any information about the people who produced the goods that it sells, you may want to steer clear or at least ask for more details.

Other Ways to Spend Ethically

Direct trade is not the only way to shop ethically. There are other avenues through which you can shop to ensure that the products you purchase are produced without exploitation. 

One such option is to shop fair trade. These products will meet official Fair Trade standards and will have an official label on their packaging or website. With that said, you may still want to double check the producer to ensure that it still abides by ethical standards of payment and working conditions.

Another way to shop ethically and support the original artisans and farmers is to shop locally. When you purchase from people in your own community, you know you are purchasing directly from the source, and you also have the opportunity to be involved even more directly in the buying-selling relationship. 

You can also purchase products whose proceeds go directly to benefit people in need. For example, when you purchase an Anchored Purpose Box subscription, portions of the proceeds go to providing clean water, alleviating hunger, and supporting microfinance in impoverished communities. Visit Anchored Purpose Box to learn more and get involved.

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