Fairtrade and Fair Trade – What’s the difference?

The terms “Fairtrade” (one word and capital “F”), and Fair Trade, (two words or small case fair trade, fair-trade, or Fair trade with a capital “F”), are frequently used, so exactly what do they mean and is there any real difference between these terms and their interpretation by producers and farmers growing the food and striving for improved and fairer incomes, and end users and customers buying these products? The terminology can be very confusing!



Fairtrade” (one word and capital “F” is utilised to describe the labelling system and certification process regulated by Fairtrade International, (based in Bonn), to which the British Fairtrade Foundation adheres. It does this by: –

  •  Setting standards, certifying, and auditing producers, (typically poor, small-scale farmers, and their producer cooperatives) in developing countries in the Global South.
  • Licensing these products in consuming countries. (The Global North).

Standards incorporate elements such as the involvement of women, gender equality, sustainable farming practices, transparency, and the quality of products. It is against these standards that the Fairtrade auditing and certification is conducted. Those products produced and marketed by these criteria are then certified with the above logo or mark.

The Fairtrade Mark guarantees two vital elements for Fairtrade farmers: –

  1. A fair and stable price is received by the producers and farmers.
  2. A premium is allocated for local community, social, and business investment, for their producer organizations or farmers’ cooperatives. The farmer cooperatives determine how this “premium” money should be spent.

Most products that bear the Fairtrade Mark are primary food commodities, (e.g., bananas; chocolate; honey; dried fruits; granola bars, etc.), or drinks (e.g., coffee, sugar, tea, and wine). There are many non-food Fairtrade products too, such as sports balls, rubber gloves, cleaning products, cotton clothing, and Fairtrade cut flowers.

If any product claims to be Fairtrade (one word, capital “F”) but does not carry the Fairtrade Logo/Mark, then that claim is fake.

The term “Fair Trade” (two separate words with a capital letter) is used in a number of ways, but primarily describes “any system of trading based on the specific principle of being “fair” topoorer producers, (as “free trade” is frequently not).

“Fair Trade” is commonly interpreted as including both “Fairtrade” and other products which DO NOT have the Fairtrade Mark, for example many craft items sold by Traidcraft, and other Alternative Trading Organizations.  Tradecraft label all their food and craft products, including those with and without the Fairtrade Mark as  This implies ethical and sustainable sourcing and “fair” business practices.

World Fairtrade Organisation logo

The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) monitors Fair Trade businesses which market commodities that do not carry the “Fairtrade Mark”. These goods display the WFTO logo. (See left). Shops in the UK that sell their products are normally members of the “British Association of Fair Trade Shops”. If retailers and businesses sign up to the “Ten Principles of Fair Trade”, then they can be deemed as “Fair Trade”.

“Fair Trade” is occasionally used as an alternative term to mean “Trade Justice”. There are dedicated campaigning organizations like the “Trade Justice Movement” and “Global Justice Now”, that focus specifically on the issues covering international trade and are the main sources of information for “Trade Justice” campaigners.

The terms “Fairtrade”, “fairtrade”, Fair Trade”, Fair trade”, “fair trade”, and “fair-trade”, can mean whatever their users want them to mean and are interchangeable, implying that producers, intermediaries, wholesales, and suppliers are trading fairly, but NOT necessarily to any of the agreed recognised international standards.

Therefore, always seek clarification when you come across these “fair-trade” products. Likewise, the term “ethical trading” can be open to several interpretations.

Mike King

Chairman, Wycombe For Fairtrade Steering Group 12th August 2021


Thanks are due to Joe Human for his clear description of the differences between and interpretations of the terms “Fairtrade” and “Fair Trade” in his editorial on the Cumbria Development Education Centre website home page.


Human, J. (2019). Fairtrade and Fair Trade – What is the Difference? Cumbria Development Education Council. Cumbria Development Education Centre. [Accessed 9th August 2021].  Online.