If you care about the world’s economy and want to make sure that the people who produce the goods you buy are treated fairly, regardless of where they are in the world, then it makes sense to buy fair trade.
Fair trade goods are goods that are made by companies that are committed to offering a fair price for the materials that go into them, and the work that goes into making them. They do not use sweatshops, and they do not buy from farms that use slave labor, nor do they pay exploitative amounts for the goods they purchase from farmers.
Fair trade goods are sometimes a small amount more expensive than goods that are made by companies that negotiate more aggressively on price and that are a little bit more willing to turn a blind eye to what is happening elsewhere in the production chain but the price difference is not usually as much as you would expect.
Many big brands with significant purchasing power have been able to acquire very well-priced, bulk amounts of goods. This means that they can proudly bear the fair trade mark and keep prices low at the same time.
Note that fair trade (cccvb.org) is not the same as organic, or vegan, or vegetarian. Nor is it a mark of quality such as the CE or BS marks. It is simply something that shows that the organisation is committed to charging a fair price, rather than that they are concerned with the ‘ethics’ of what it is they are selling. If you want to make sure that the goods you are buying are free from GMOs or you have a preference relating to the presence of animal products, then that is something that you will need to look at separately.
Fair trade is still a valuable mark, though – it is something which ensures that you are getting products made by a company that cares about more than just profit. It could, in the long term, benefit all of us because by providing a fair price for the work that the suppliers do, you stimulate the economy in their country and give them and their children a fair chance. Thriving economies support other thriving economies, and in the long term everyone will benefit.
The race to produce the cheapest goods does not help anyone. Quality suffers, and people who are able to get out of the industries in question do so. Even things like producing coffee – if the emphasis is on growing as much coffee as possible to sell it in bulk, then that means that the quality control will suffer. It would be much better if the coffee growers were encouraged to produce high quality beans, and to experiment with different cultivars. Would you not rather drink refreshing, interesting and consistent coffee than get bitter but flat tasting beans that were grown in intensive conditions by workers that did not care to tend the crop properly?