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Fair Trade

You may be surprised to learn that your daily choice of coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar, rice or even bananas has a global impact.

When you buy products bearing a label stating they're "Fair Trade Certified," you're guaranteeing that the farmers who grew the beans, cocoa, tea leaves and so on are paid a fair price, are provided much-needed credit and are given technical assistance, such as help in making the transition to organic growing.

Vanilla and flowers are among the other products certified as "Fair Trade" by TransFair USA, the only certifier of Fair Trade goods in the United States, according to Consumers Union, a nonprofit watchdog organization. Consumers Union makes a practice of checking the veracity of green labels and gives "Fair Trade Certified" a thumbs-up, calling the label "highly" meaningful and the organization free from conflict of interest.

Until recently, Fair Trade labels went exclusively to small-scale growers. TransFair USA since has found itself at the center of a debate about how good a company has to be to earn its certification. That's because the biggest of the big companies — like Wal-Mart and McDonald's — now are getting products certified.

To some, that indicates a bankruptcy in the labeling process, as some big companies have suspect practices in other spheres of their business. Others see the switch as a promising sign, as formerly niche ethical considerations go mainstream.

Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.

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