Fair trade is a dynamic movement seeking poverty alleviation and empowerment of producers and workers through ethical trading between Northern consumers and Southern producers. The movement is constituted of alternative trading organizations (ATOs), formalized labeling and certification systems and social movement groups supporting fair trade principles (Wilkinson 2007). Each component played an important role in the evolution and expansion of the fair trade movement in the United States. In this chapter we briefly recount its history and address contemporary issues around its practice and growth. How does the United States compare to other markets for fair trade products? What do the differences mean for those who are attempting to grow fair trade in the United States? Can fair trade scale up to supply US markets without diluting its core standards? To address these questions we draw on recent scholarship and interviews with advocates working to promote fair trade and workers’ rights in US communities, schools and businesses. Fair trade’s US roots trace to small-scale ‘alternative’ and ‘direct’ models of international trade. On a 1946 visit to Puerto Rico, a Mennonite Central Committee volunteer met women skilled at creating beautiful lace, but who lived in extreme poverty. She began selling the lace in her home community, delivering the proceeds directly to the artisans. Her work eventually grew to become the fair trade enterprise Ten Thousand Villages (Fair Trade Federation 2014a).
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