Fair Trade Enterprises Are Fighting For Gender Justice Through An Inclusive Business Model

On the occasion of International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, we are campaigning to promote gender justice, understood as the full equality and equity between women and men in all spheres of life. 

While mainstream business remains to be a man’s world, perpetrating gender injustice practices and discourse, the WFTO Global community of Fair Trade Enterprises relentlessly works to dismantle the deep-rooted male-dominated business model that fosters competition over collaboration and hierarchical structures that often prevent women from reaching their full potential. 

As WFTO, we know that gender justice cannot be achieved through the betterment of women’s socio-economic conditions by legal means only. Without corrective behavioural action that targets different audiences, and especially institutions and stakeholders, substantial systemic change won’t be ensured. Legislation is a fundamental step in uprooting exploitative practices from the current economic system, yet often not enough to truly implement change. As WFTO we want to showcase how, even when the violation of human rights is in everyday mainstream business model, Fair Trade Enterprises, and especially Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) are already proving that a different system and reality for women is possible. 

WFTO Fair Trade Enterprises advocate for an economic model where women are not underpaid or silenced, but have equal access to economic and social opportunities. That’s why we wanted to hear especially from those often female-led, women-owned SMEs about how they experience their fight for gender justice. Their answers gave us a grounding reflection on some of the struggles that women still are facing today.

“It is probably the most important task we have to better societies in general. The basic act of having your own income as a female is essential for empowerment and contribution to societal progress” – Lanka Upcycles, fairly traded recycled plastic products that aims to improve the livelihood of communities on Sri Lanka’s East Coast. 

All of the WFTO Guaranteed Fair Trade Enterprises participating in our survey have witnessed an increase in the number of women working in their enterprises in the last five years. This data mirrors the rising wave of women gaining the economic space that they deserve. Demolishing those barriers that hamper women from contributing to society in equal measure as men is pivotal for developing a just new society. Empowering women is at the centre of flourishing a new sustainable economy, also stated by our members. 

“Women feel capable to support their families not just through nurture but economically. Being able to find their independence and role in the community and use it for good. Lifting other women up.” – Yabal’, Fair Trade organisation focused on sustainable fashion and supports indigenous women’s weaving in Guatemala.

However, talking about women’s opportunities and the defence of human rights goes often hand in hand with certain lines of discussion. What is in practice, “empowerment”? Should it be focused only on better employment status? Or on better education and human capital? Or a deeper cultural change? As WFTO we believe that systemic change to ensure women’s agency to the fullest is threefold: 

  1. Political, for which we advocate for better legislation that support the growth of MSMEs
  2. Economical, to uproot mainstream businesses from the economy and replace them with impact-driven SMEs
  3. Cultural, aimed at changing civil society’s mindset around those gendered discourses that define our behaviour

For this specific reason, feminists and activists, including WFTO Guaranteed Members who advocate for better conditions for women, circle uncomfortably around the use of “empowerment”: defined as the capability of women for self-determination, this term often sounds empty and not practical enough for truly achieving gender justice. Mission-driven WFTO Fair Traders also acknowledge a certain amount of discomfort in using such words: 

“The term implies that women, like me, are weak. I rather use ‘create equality of opportunity’. I wish the term had changed, as it still means we need help to succeed.” – Bebemoss 

A systemic and holistic redistribution of power relations needs to take place. For this reason, we as WFTO advocate for a business model where women have the space and equal opportunity as men to take leadership roles, grow their professional and personal skills, and aggregate to fight for their human rights to be respected and make everyone’s voices heard. As social agents continuously exposed to cultural-, economic-, or political- constraints, women bring a unique intersectional experience that can truly push for change from within. As Fair Trade Enterprises, we know this and want to serve them to amplify their presence, message and strength. 

“To improve the empowerment of women, we have to create the opportunities to achieve their aim by boosting their self esteem and education”. Global Mamas

“We need to provide comprehensive training options, easy access to funding and most importantly flexible work opportunities so that they can conciliate their roles as mothers and workers”. Bebemoss

by Isabel Romijnders

Photo credits: Global Mamas, Rice and Carry/Lanka Upcycles, Yabal Handicrafts, Bebemoss

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17th international


17-20 SEPT 2024 – CAPE TOWN 

We are thrilled to invite you to our upcoming International Fair Trade Summit, set to take place in the vibrant city of Cape Town, from the 17th to the 20th of September 2024.

The International Fair Trade Summit aims to bring together leaders, practitioners, and advocates from all corners of the globe to collaborate and promote Fair Trade practices. This edition promises to be a unique opportunity for participants to engage in enlightening discussions, exchange ideas, and forge partnerships that will shape the future of Fair Trade.

WFTO Membership & Associate Types

  • Fair Trade Organisations (FTO)

    All trading members of WFTO. This includes all organisations that have more than half of their income and/or more than €100,000 in income from trade.

  • Fair Trade Support Organisations (FTSO)

    An organisation whose primary mission is to support Fair Trade and/or provide services to organisations that are or want to become Fair Trade Organisations.

  • Fair Trade Networks (FTN)

    An organisation which is an association of organisations committed to Fair Trade.

  • Individual Associates (IA)

    Individual Associates are supporters of the Fair Trade movement with limited rights. The WFTO Guarantee System does not apply to them.

  • Associate Organisations (AO)

    Associate Organisations align with WFTO’s values but after their application. They do not undergo monitoring and also have limited rights.

WFTO Guarantee System Monitoring Statuses

  • Candidates

    Candidates have been conditionally approved for membership but have not completed their first monitoring cycle under the WFTO Guarantee System. They have limited rights within WFTO. They may not use the WFTO Member Mark and Product Label or claim that they are monitored by WFTO.

  • Guaranteed Members

    Guaranteed members have met the WFTO Membership requirements and are monitored under the WFTO Guarantee System.

  • Member

    Organisations that have no or little income from trade go through a reduced version of the WFTO Guarantee System that does not include criteria related to trade. These organisations may use the WFTO Member Mark but cannot use the Product Label for any products they may be trading to support their mission. This status only applies to Fair Trade Networks (FTN) and Support Organisations (FTSO).

  • Renewal in Progress

    Members who are in the process of renewing their guaranteed status and are overdue on some requirements retain full rights while they work to meet the demands of the Guarantee System on an administrative or compliance level.

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WFTO welcomes applications from established Fair Trade Organisations as well as organisations that support Fair Trade. Individuals in their capacity as researchers, writers, consultants and specialists in their field who can contribute solid skills, knowledge and expertise to WFTO and members are also welcome.

Add Your Heading Text Initial requirements for organisations:

  • Compliance with the WFTO 10 Principles of Fair Trade. Please have a look at the WFTO Fair Trade Standard for more specific information on compliance with these principles.

  • All applicant organisations must already be duly registered (as a legal entity) and active for at least one year.

Who can apply?

  • Fair Trade Organisations (FTO)

    All companies, partnerships, co-partnerships and other legal bodies – as determined by the legal provisions of the country of the member concerned – that are directly engaged in Fair Trade. They may be producers or northern or southern based trading FTOs for whom Fair Trade is the main activity. To qualify for FTO membership, income from sales (turnover) must account for 50% or more of the total income. Applications for FTO membership cannot be accepted from organisations with no prior sales history.

  • Fair Trade Networks (FTN)

    Legal entities whose primary function is to serve as national or international associations of Fair Trade producers and/or Fair Trade Organisations.

  • Fair Trade Support Organisations (FTSO)

    Fair Trade Organisations where trading is not the main activity (proportion of trade is less than 50% of total income). These organisations are engaged in Fair Trade indirectly, through activities that promote and support Fair Trade. These activities can include business counselling, finance, advocacy or networking.

  • Associate Organisations

    This is a special category for national or international organisations that are interested in supporting and promoting Fair Trade, including donor organisations. Organisations that do not meet the one-year legal existence requirement also fit in this group.

  • Individual Associates

    Individual researchers, writers, consultants and specialists in their field that can support WFTO. WFTO expects its individual associates to be active Fair Trade supporters whose experience and expertise in their own particular field can be of practical benefit to WFTO's members. To apply, please submit a curriculum vitae.

    While FTO, FTN and FTSO are entitled to full WFTO membership, organizational and individual associates have only limited rights.

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The WFTO Product Label is more than just a Fair Trade symbol. It signifies not only that the practices across the supply chain are checked against the WFTO Fair Trade Standard, but it also represents support to the battle against poverty and inequality. Products carrying the WFTO Label are made and traded by Guaranteed Fair Trade Organisations dedicated to the sustainable Fair Trade economy. Every purchase of products with the WFTO Label supports small producers and their communities.

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