One of the best ways to assure that workers are not exploited, or even worse enslaved, for the production of plant foods and products is to buy fair trade products. Ideally, the fair trade label means that farmers and workers engaged in sustainable practices and receive just compensation.
However, the US government has no over-riding authority over fair trade labelling, unlike the “certified organic” label, which has to meet strict government criteria. In fact, businesses can be legally penalized for saying they have a certified organic product that isn’t.
The most common fair trade label you’ll see on US products is “Fair Trade USA,” which is owned by TransFair. Rather than having to adhere to strictly regulated government guidelines to earn this label, companies pay for this marketing label. And they can have as little as 10 percent of their eligible ingredients (meaning the commonly exploited Third World crops, such as coffee, cacao, and sugar)— be fair trade and still sport the “Fair Trade USA” seal.
Until the US government takes on the responsibility of regulating the Fair Trade label, conscientious consumers would be wise to seek the stricter “Fair for Life” label, issued by the Swiss-based Institute for Market Ecology (IMO), which has neutral third party inspections and much stricter guidelines. Or otherwise settle for the more prevalent Fair Trade USA, which at least offers some ethical assurances.