The term "fair trade" has come to be an adjective describing ethically produced products, where the producers get a fair price and the products are produced by sustainable means. The umbrella organisation, Fairtrade Labelling Organization International or FLO, certifies products ranging from coffee to fabrics that meet minimum criteria. It also produces a wealth of information for teachers on the issues involved.
A global market led to small farmers and workers in developing countries being paid extremely low wages, in many cases not enough to live on. Market pressures encourage unsustainable farming practices for short-term profit. The fair trade movement attempts to address these issues by ensuring that producers are paid a fair price and the production methods are sustainable. Fair trade uses the market in an equitable way and empowers small farmers to make a living rather than communities being dependent upon foreign aid.
The idea of fair trade has existed since the 1940s but the official labelling scheme began in Holland in 1988. It expanded to include much of Western Europe, the United States, Canada and Japan by the end of the 20th century. Each country has different organisations within the umbrella group. FLO was established in 1997 to have consistent standards and certification internationally.
The fair trade movement relates to environmental, sociological, political and economic topics and could be included in lessons on any of these. It also relates to studies of agriculture in geography courses. For instance, a sociology lesson covering the impact of globalisation could include an examination of how far fair trade has addressed some of the problems or a comparison between communities based on fair trade and ones dependent on conventional corporations. Fair trade farming methods are supposed to be more sustainable than most modern agricultural methods and a geography class could look at the differences in impact.
Where to Get More Information and Resources
The organisations that provide fair trade certification provide free materials for teachers, including posters and leaflets. You can also download photographs and other resources. Don't restrict yourself to US based sites, as the issues are the same worldwide. Some UK based fair trade websites, for example, produce useful materials you can access anywhere in the world.