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What is Fair Trade Art?

By James Doehring
Updated May 23, 2024
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Fair trade art is any work of art whose production meets the general standards of fair trade. Some central priorities of the fair trade movement are better wages and conditions for workers, sustainability and sound environmental practices. The benefits of fair trade art are typically targeted at economically disadvantaged producers in underdeveloped nations. Fair trade products are often labeled as such by a certification body. They are then sold on the international market.

The fair trade movement has evolved in its structure over the years. Most of the current trends of fair trade were formed by students in Europe after the Second World War. In the Netherlands, a number of worldshops, which sold handicrafts from around the world, were operated by volunteers. These worldshops were considered successful, and many similar enterprises soon arose across western Europe. The first fair trade label appeared in 1988 on Mexican coffee that was sold in Dutch supermarkets.

Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) sought to unify the certification process of fair trade products in 1997. FLO wanted to see a single, easily-recognizable label on all fair trade items, including fair trade art—this helps to improve the visibility of these products in stores. One branch of FLO sets the standards and requirements fair trade employers must meet in their local countries. Another branch of FLO inspects products and procedures for compliance with these standards.

Many economically disadvantaged indigenous groups sell handicrafts as a means of subsistence. These items are typically associated with a group’s historical heritage; they can include purely decorative works, clothing and accessories and practical household items. When not sold in their producer’s home country, these handicrafts are often exported to developed countries. Some fair trade art products can be found in conventional retail stores, while others are sold in fair trade specialty shops.

There are a number of criticisms of the practices associated with fair trade art. The Adam Smith Institute, a British economics think tank, maintains that fair trade distorts prices in the market in ways similar to those of farm subsidies. Fair trade attempts to set a price floor that, some claim, can lead to overproduction and excess supply in the market. On the other side of the argument, some charge that fair trade is not aggressive enough in improving the lives of producers. The French author Christian Jacquiau has criticized the practice of selling fair trade products in conventional mass retailers and has called for a fully autonomous fair trade market.

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Discussion Comments
By candyquilt — On Jun 04, 2011

I think we should support fair trade art, because free trade has no guarantees for the producers. If a country is producing arts and crafts and selling it under free trade, that trade might end suddenly because of global prices of those goods and materials. What that means is that people who rely on this trade for their living can suddenly lose their entire income. In fair trade, that can't happen because partnerships and trade are for the long term.

That's also good for us because we can buy a diversity of goods. If a particular craft is only made in one place in the world because it's cheaper there and that's what the corporations want, there is only one option.

Do you see what I mean?

By SteamLouis — On Jun 01, 2011

You can find fair trade coffee, cocoa and even clothing. But I enjoy buying fair trade arts and crafts the most. Some fair trade stores even sell fair trade music instruments. It's really nice to know that I'm supporting the people who make it, but the other great part is that you get to see and incorporate local cultures into your own life and living room!

Fair trade art and jewelry is so unique. I love it when my friends ask me where I got something and I can say it is from Africa or Latin America. I know no one else has the same thing and I know that someone far away from me took the time and effort to make it. It's a great feeling.

By ddljohn — On May 30, 2011

I think fair trade grew from the idea that globalization and development has led to injustice, especially in developing nations that rely on a single crop or product. Very large companies are buying raw commodities in these countries cheaply and making a lot of profit off of it. But it's not helping the locals or those countries become more wealthy and enjoy better life standards.

So the goal is to support the people directly and end exploitation of workers in developing countries. Artists and craft workers are paid good wages, there is no abuse of workers and the environment is not damaged.

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