Fairtrade, Ethical, Organic - What's the Difference?

Fairtrade, Ethical, Organic - What's the Difference?

When it comes to trying to shop for eco-friendly winter clothes, the labels can often be confusing. What is the difference between Fairtrade, ethical, and organic?

If you are interested in shopping sustainably, read on.

Fairtrade or Fair Trade?

You will see this written both ways but they might not mean the same thing, so beware. The one word, Fairtrade, shows that a product has been accredited by the Fairtrade organization. Products that receive accreditation will have a green and blue label to show they have met all the international standards.

The standards for the brand are to help relieve poverty by paying a fair price for goods and services all over the world, at every step of the supply chain. This is known as the Fairtrade minimum price. Fairtrade producers can also get additional sums to invest in the communities or businesses they work with to develop their business and relieve poverty even more.

There are also detailed standards that relate to the environment, producers, and growers, to ensure the work is sustainable. The Fairtrade mark, first started in 1988, covers a variety of fresh produce, including chocolate, wine, cotton, honey, tea, and more. Only 1% of the cotton sold worldwide is Fairtrade; 81% is from genetically modified seeds.

To learn more about Fairtrade, visit: https://www.fairtrade.net

"Fair trade", two words, covers any product that works to the same principles of Fairtrade. However, it could be accredited by another organization or not be labelled officially at all. Always look for a third-party accreditation label. Fair trade clothing brands include Athleta, Patagonia, and REI. To learn more about Fair trade, visit: https://www.fairtradecertified.org/

It is important to note that while Fairtrade produces are required to grow sustainably, they are not guaranteed to be grown organically.


What is organic? This has become a tricky definition in the last few years. The certification of products as organic has become very complex as consumers have become more interested in eco-friendly, sustainable products.

In general, organic means that the raw components are produced organically; that is, without chemicals like man-made fertilizers and pesticides and no genetically modified components. However, the definition of organic varies around the world. In the European Union (EU), a product must be 95% organic to receive certification. In the US, the National Organic Program (NOP) is run through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and offers a set of rules about growing produce, handling livestock, and so on. You can learn more here:

When shopping, look for the green and white USDA label.

Organic fabric fibers include:

* Cotton
* Linen (made from flax)
* Silk
* Wool
* Cashmere
* Hemp
* Jute

The last two are not used for clothing, but for home furnishings.

Soil Association

In the UK, the Soil Association offers organic certification based on treatment of the land and crops and of the people who work on the land. It aims to sustain the health of the crops, animals, people and soil. It has certified more than 6,000 companies whose products range from food to fashion, and their requirements are even more stringent than those laid down by the EU.


With ethical products, the companies are supposed to produce their goods based on corporate social responsibility; that is, to keep an eye on their impact on the environment and the well-being of their workers. There is no certification and consumers will have to research whether or not a company tests on animals, pollutes, treats workers badly, and so on, before deciding to purchase a particular product.

Now that we have gone over these definitions, use them to help you make buying decisions that are right for you.