Fair Trade is not just a Marketing Word
Briefly, Fair Trade organisations need to exist because the damage done years and years ago when trading for textiles, handicrafts and consumables first began, cannot be undone. When there were no Fair Trade organisations, buyers would basically name their price to the villagers producing their goods, and there was no discussion or negotiation involved. This led to exploitation of the entire community (and often entire villages or regions), and discrimination against marginalised workers (such as women). These shameful practices by wealthier nations created situations of (sometimes extreme) poverty that we are trying to undo today.
As respected enforcers, Fair Trade organisations need to keep themselves relatively free from emotional decision making and create guidelines for the entire world to follow. It is a very difficult position to legislate for all markets (for example coffee production is very different to textile sewing), and all countries (compare growing coffee in Indonesia to sewing textiles in Mexico.) For this reason it is essential all aspects are taken into consideration.
As traders and importers, we are not qualified to say we are paying fair prices, or our manufacturers are ensuring fair conditions. We can believe and be led to believe this is the case (and often it is the case!), but until it has all been looked into and certified by a Fair Trade agency, this may not be the truth. The only businesses who can market the Fair Trade logos or claim affiliation are those whose entire operations have been checked out by a Fair Trade organisation.
Luckily for those of us not certified, the World Fair Trade Organisation has made available all documents and practises they believe are important, so all of us can try to adopt some/all of these into our own businesses. It is important for us as traders to 'read the book' already written on what producers can expect when dealing with us, rather than simply doing what feels right, and hoping for the best. Again, we are not qualified to make these judgements.
But that's not the whole truth either ...
Most of us in the industry (ie, the people in the stalls at your local markets selling products from overseas that we import ourselves), are very conscious of these issues, and try every single time to make the best choices when sourcing products. Certainly, all of the importers that we call friends, absolutely believe (and with great research preceding this belief) that they are affecting change for the better in our chosen countries, and that we are paying fair prices and ensuring fair conditions.
This is the other type of trade: Ethical Trade. We take guidance from the experts but forge our own partnerships with intention and the utmost consideration.