If a product is labeled “fair trade” it means that efforts have been made by the company to assure equitable trading conditions while promoting sustainability. Fair trade products also advocate higher prices for exporters so the producers, typically those in third world countries, can live better lives. The problem lies in the fact that there are not any real standards across the board for fair trade products, nor any regulation to see that the increased profits actually benefit the people who provide the goods. Should there be government standards for products labeled “Fair Trade”?
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Truth in advertising seems often to be ensured only if there is a chance that lies will be punished. In this case, we are talking about a matter of semantics first and truth second, but truth certainly seems close behind the semantic issue.
In general, I think that there is some importance to making sure that words have meaning, specific meaning, especially when the terms are used to communicate social and political and commercial values, which is the case here.
Some regulation seems appropriate.
Well, whenever there is a revolution in the marketplace, and the burgeoning fair trade market is a revolution in its own right, the US government does eventually impose regulations to insure ethical practice and truth in product identification. What kind of regulation that might be. I don't have the background to discuss the ins and outs of what regulations there might possibly be and which of these possibilities might serve relevant interests best. Yet I'm convinced government regulation will occur and would be in favor of it so that we know precisely what we are expending our money for. While government regulation, such as subsidies to not produce, may be sticky wickets with strong reasons on both sides of the fence, some government regulation that relates to fair wages, fair labor practices and fair child labor laws have historically worked out well in the US, and I suspect that since these issues are also relevant to fair trade, along with others, eventual government regulation of fair trade goods and markets will also work out well. In fact, states have already begun to legislate regulation of fair trade: "In 1931, California became the first state to pass fair-trade laws" (Gale Cengage).
I think this is an excellent idea. People have a right to know what they are buying. It is clear that some countries have worse records than others, but there is not always a way to tell just from where a product is from.
I do believe there should be government standards for products to be sold under the Fair Trade label. It would be simple legislation to write, as the standards already exist and they could simply be adopted and penalties for fraudulent labeling enacted. It would be even more effective and sensible to try to adopt these standards through the World Fair Trade Organization or the United Nations as part of a treaty.
Consumers who choose to buy Fair Trade products have little way to determine if those products are truly meeting the standards originally conceived by the Fair Trade industry. Government regulation could give them some peace of mind and truth in advertising.
I do not think that the government should set these standards. Consumers should, instead, rely on groups that they trust to set fair trade standards.
The major reason for this is that "fair trade" is too subjective of a term. We live in a time when even science becomes hugely politicized. The idea that the government could objectively determine what products are "fair trade" is preposterous. It would be a huge political battle, leading to very watered down standards that were essentially useless. Therefore, various private groups should issue their own labels and people could rely on the groups that they trust/agree with.
I think there has to be government (or even industry standards) for products labeled "Fair Trade." I believe this for two main reasons. First, it is not 'fair' to companies who are not of the 'fair trade' sector, to have regulations placed on them for the products they sell, while others who deal in the same industry do not have standards imposed on them. Typically, many of these products from well-known, respected, and reputable non-fair trade companies are of premium quality and reliability, having been on the market for decades. While I'm all for "Fair Trade" products, let's not punish those not of this ilk.
The second, and maybe more important reason there has to be government or industry standards for products labeled "Fair Trade" is the fact that these standards will enable the industry as a whole and the producers in particular to remain viable. Without standards of some kind there may be a tendency to cut corners or offer less than premium quality products to cut expenses and garner more profit. In the end, these actions will harm the reputation of the industry. Consumers will vote with their wallets and purses and punish financially those fair trade entities that do not provide products that are as top-quality as the major blue chip producers provide. Therefore, standards force companies to innovate and focus on customer satisfaction for the betterment of their reputations and their bottom lines.
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