What Is Direct Trade and Why It Matters


I remember going to an Oxfam store as a kid with mom. While I looked around at colorful beaded necklaces and big unique bracelets she would be buying coffee and tea – things that she used to buy exclusively in that store.

She would explain to me what fair trade means and why it was important for her to buy there, so for a very long time that was the norm for me.

I’m sure you’ve heard of fair trade (or Fair Trade Certified) products before, but do you know what direct trade is? I must confess I didn’t until quite recently.

To put it simply, direct trade is about putting producers (mostly farmers) first. There’s a lot more to it, so let’s go over the basics.

So what is direct trade?

Direct trade means that there are no intermediaries between suppliers (farmers) and manufacturing companies, resulting in a transparent supply chain.

Thanks to this, both farmers and manufacturers can save a percentage of the money that would otherwise be spent in the middlemen. This allows them to invest that money into their businesses and offer higher quality products.

Currently, the normal situation in most industries is having an endless supply chain with very little transparency. A lot gets lost in the middle of this whole thing – fair living wages, decent working conditions,… – and it’s almost impossible to the final seller to know where their product came from and how it was produced.

I’m sure you know about everything going on in the world of fast fashion, where supply chains are so long that the origin of garments is untraceable. We don’t know who made our clothes, in which factories and in which conditions, which creates the perfect environment for human rights violations.

Then, the whole idea of direct trade is getting rid of all the unnecessary middlemen. This has the potential to improve the quality of the whole chain, which becomes safer and more valuable. Imagine if everything we bought came from ethical sources! We would be able to create long-lasting change across many industries.

Is it the same as fair trade?

Not really.

In a nutshell, both have the ultimate goal of mitigating the differences between producers in industrialised countries and developping countries, and making sure that the latter receive fair wages.

Direct trade works by empowering producers and makers, and by making sure they have an honest and professional relationship in order to promote that long-lasting systemic change. Actually, one of the reasons why direct trade was created was to solve a big problem with fair trade: low-quality production.

Another difference between fair trade and direct trade is that fair trade is more centralised and organised, while direct trade is a promise, nothing official (yet!).

Is it sustainable?

Of course!

It’s not that direct trade is inherently sustainable, but it supports all the bases that need to be covered to ensure a sustainable (meaning ethical, traceable, eco-friendly) supply chain. A high-quality supply chain can ensure a mindful use of resources and responsible treatment of the environment and farming communities.

Empowering workers to promote quality, transparency and dignity is the only way forward!

Right now, the only problem with direct trade is that right now it’s not a standardised certification, so its compliance depends on the honesty and transparency of both farmers and buyers.

So how can I know that a product is direct trade?

As we mentioned, there isn’t a global certification that covers all direct trade products, like in the case of Fair Trade Certified. This means that you’ll have to do a bit of research!

If you google direct trade, most of the results on the first page are from coffee companies, which I’m stoked about as a caffeine-dependent individual, but there are companies from other sectors embracing this ideal.

These are just a few of them:

  • Ethique. This is my favorite sustainable skincare brand out there. They produce solid skin (and hair) care products and now that I know what is direct trade and that they practice it Iove them even more!
  • Counter Culture Coffee. Have I already mentioned I love coffee? So yeah, I can’t wait to buy something from Counter Culture Coffee. They actually created a direct trade certification in 2009 and they have been practising it since then.
  • Naked Cacao. They have created the Naked Transparent Sourcing Program to ensure that their farmers are paid fair wages and that their cacao is sourced sustainably. I love how they put it on their website: “we do not simply buy from farmers, we partner with them.”
  • Tea Rebellion. This tea company partners with smallholders and family farmers in different regions of the world to make sure the wellbeing of the producers is a priori-tea (see what I did there?). They want to change the way in which we buy and drink tea and I’m here for it.

What can I say other than I hope that it becomes the norm some day.

Let’s recap: if you support direct trade, you’ll be paying for…

  • empowerment of farmers in developing nations
  • the possibility for these farmers to reinvest in their businesses
  • the certainty that you’re buying an ethical product, produced and manufactured under ethical conditions
  • a fair product that comes from a transparent chain
  • great quality

What do you think?

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