Fair trade is a market approach to socio-economic change. It primarily addresses goods produced in developing countries and sold to developed countries. For locavores and others with an interest in where their foodstuffs come from, fair trade most often comes up in reference to coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, sugar, oils, nuts, spices, tropical fruits, and sometimes wine.
Fair trade organizations typically attempt to create direct channels between growers or producers and customers, ensure living wages and safe working conditions for workers, as well as opportunities for small businesses to grow and communities to provide education, health care, and other services. For foodstuffs, sustainable growing practices are mandatory.
For some items, such as coffee and tea, fair trade certification can be relatively straight-forward. For things like chocolate or clothing, tracing the chain of production is more challenging.
If you want to buy fair trade products, be sure they are third-party certified by an organization with clear guidelines and standards, such as Fair Trade USA.