Fair Trade is defined as a series of socio-economic practices forming an alternative to conventional international trade, whose rules are universally unfair to Southern nations, and in particular to their rural producers. These practices have established relations between producers and consumers that are based on equity, partnership, trust and shared interest. They respect precise criteria, and pursue objectives from various directions: in order to obtain fairer conditions for groups of marginalized producers, and to develop the practices and rules of international trade with the support of consumers. During the last few decades, the Fair Trade movement has enjoyed a sustained development, notably in Northern Europe. Despite constant progression, differing strategies have emerged, and questions have been raised about the impact of these practices and their ability to present a real alternative towards sustainable and equitable development.
The action of Fair Trade needs to be set in the larger context of an economy that is in the service of human beings. Fair Trade practices have no meaning unless they go beyond the field of North/South commercial relations to become part of the field of local or regional action, which is particularly important for strengthening solidarity between urban consumers and rural producers. National structures of fair Trade have been set up in several Southern nations, and South-South as well as North-North exchange represents an undervalued issue. Creating the Fair Trade conditions at different levels would also allow a better understanding of the environmental dimension to develop. A number of innovations have also come to the fore for clarifying and converging the criteria of equity and sustainability.
In this way Fair Trade can be seen as a group of practices in the North and South cultivating the solidarity for sustainable and fair trade and development, with many objectives, which is carried out under a framework of authentic partnerships, based on openness and access to information. Some of these have produced creative responses to the present challenges and questionings, notably the development of regional exchange and alliances in both the North and South, and through innovations in the area of certification and distribution.