The Fair Trade Test: Two simple questions to ask before buying fair trade products made in Guatemala

In recent years, the terms “fair trade” and “ethically sourced” have been used to market not-so-ethical brands, organizations, and products. There are hundreds of trustworthy organizations around the world that adhere to the principles of fair trade, but some brands and B-corps are incorrectly and casually using these terms to market their products with the hope that their customers will trust the claims. Unfortunately, they are right.

As a consumer, it can be confusing to determine which organizations or brands are being honest about who actually benefits from the sales of their products—the artisans, middlemen or the brands. So before you buy, here are two simple questions you can ask any seller who promotes their products as “fair trade” or “ethically sourced.”

Is the seller a World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) or Fair Trade Federation (FTF) member?

At Maya Traditions Foundation, we pride ourselves on being a World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) member since 2017 and practice full transparency in our sourcing and artisan partnership operations. Unfortunately, as Fair Trade gains popularity, so does the frivolous use of the term by marketers to sell their unethically sourced products. Since the practices of non-WFTO or FTF members are not monitored, they can use the terms to promote their products freely without penalty, creating confusion among consumers.

As a member of the WTFO, you can trust that Maya Traditions adheres to the following 10 Principles of Fair Trade as enforced and monitored by the WTFO:

  • Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers
  • Transparency and Accountability
  • Fair Trading Practices
  • Payment of a Fair Price
  • Ensuring no Child Labor and Forced Labor
  • Commitment to Non-Discrimination, Gender Equity and Freedom of Association
  • Ensuring Good Working Conditions
  • Providing Capacity Building
  • Promoting Fair Trade
  • Respect for the Environment

Does the seller use upcycled, recycled or vintage textiles in their designs?

When products are constructed using upcycled, recycled or vintage textiles, this means that the organization or brand is not hiring an artisan to create a textile directly. Instead, the item is purchased from a middleman who is reaping the benefits of the markup price without the investment in skills, time and labor that went in to make the original textile. Think of the middleman of like an owner of a pawn shop. The pawn shop owner is making the profit on the sales of the pieces, while the original owner of the item was paid only a fraction of the price for the value of the original item.

In Guatemala, weavers of huipiles (a traditional blouse worn by indigenous Mayan women) spend months weaving a single huipil using backstrap weaving and other techniques. Huipiles have intricate designs that are indicative of the weavers’ region in Guatemala.

As western fashion popularized the bright patterns, colors, and embroidery work found in the traditional Guatemalan huipiles, the demand grew for these textiles. At Maya Traditions, we directly employ and pay artisan weavers a fair wage for textiles and liaise wholesale in international markets using fair trade practices. However, some brands are taking advantage of the recent popularity of the textiles and purchase low priced, second-hand huipiles and other textiles through middlemen. Sadly, some of the practices that the middlemen use to acquire the textiles are aggressive and exploitive. The middlemen pray on weavers who are desperate to make money to feed their family, pay for medical bills or rent.

This practice of purchasing used textiles from a middleman is single-handedly destroying backstrap weaving and other traditional artisan techniques in Guatemala. As demands for cheap huipiles have and will continue to grow and exploitative practices continue, women are refusing to weave and carry on the tradition as they are not making a fair wage for their time and labor.

At Maya Traditions, it is our mission to preserve the local Guatemalan culture and backstrap weaving tradition through ethical sourcing and fair trade practices. While we continue to work directly with the weavers, we rely on our brand partners to make informed choices about who they chose to work with and consumers to know the sourcing practices of the products they are purchasing.

Still curious about what makes an organization fair trade? Visit the World Fair Trade Organization website for more information.

2 thoughts on “The Fair Trade Test: Two simple questions to ask before buying fair trade products made in Guatemala”

  1. Please get this information out to tour companies like Caravan and cruise ship companies like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL). They should be sure to take tourists to the appropriate places.

    • Thank you Carol! We will pass on your valuable information to our Ethical Tourism Coordinator. Also, Montse wishes that you and Chris can come to Guatemala in the near future and visit us! 🙂


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