Difference between organic and Fairtrade

Sometimes organic and Fairtrade logos appear side by side on things like chocolate and clothes, sometimes you only see one of them.

Both claim to include social and environmental requirements, but to what extent?

Just quickly

When a product features true organic and Fairtrade logos it means it’s audited by legitimate organisations.

Fairtrade is a global organisation with offices throughout the world following the same standards whereas organic requirements vary from country to country. They’re based on the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements’ standard.

The main differences between the two is Fairtrade focuses on fair prices and worker rights and conditions while organic is mostly concerned with environmental issues – each dips their toe into the other’s focus areas.

Fairtrade also stops at the farm gate, whereas for a box of granola to be certified organic the ingredients need to be grown organically and it needs to be processed in a certified organic factory.

Let’s see who better addresses some key areas.

Social requirements

Fairtrade comes out on top when it comes to more thoroughly checking that the rights of farmers and farm workers and enhancement of the community are addressed.

It is big on social development, expecting democratic processes, longer-term contracts for workers, non-discrimination, a right for workers to negotiate and belong to advocacy groups, adequate OH&S and investment in community development.

There are some farming systems that Fairtrade doesn’t certify, such as silk so an organic certification like GOTS goes a long way to filling the void.

The organic industry is interested in social equality but its social requirements are not as prescriptive as Fairtrade and can be summed up in about four pages (of a 100 page standard). Organic prohibits discrimination, requires freedom of association and collective bargaining for workers, and conditions of employment and OH&S.

Child labour 

Organic and Fairtrade have similar expectations about child labour.

International organic standards prohibit it – for the sake of addressing the issue, people under 13 are considered children. There are practical exceptions – children can be employed on family farms or nearby properties providing it doesn’t interfere with their formal education or social, mental or physical development and that the work isn’t dangerous to their health and safety.

Fairtrade prohibits farmers intentionally planting genetically engineered seed and encourages organisations to raise awareness of GM and write a management plan if they’re in an area that farms GM crops.

Similarly for Fairtrade, which says children under 15 cannot work on a farm unless it is a family farm and the work is child appropriate and doesn’t interrupt education. Fairtrade has further requirements about how child labour is managed in communities.


Fairtrade wins hands down. It mandates a fair price by setting minimum prices for farmers and workers depending on the region. The minimum prices are higher for organic crops.

Buyers also pay an extra 5 cents a kilo for social and economic investments.

Organic doesn’t stipulate wages; however it does require workers to receive terms of employment which outlines things like pay.


Organic dominates this area because it’s specific and comprehensive. It prohibits synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, prescribes maximum stocking densities to avoid negative impacts on land and protects biodiversity.

Fairtrade does evaluate things like waste treatment, ecosystem protection and energy and water conservation.

It doesn’t prohibit agricultural chemicals; however it has restrictions around how they are handled and it bans chemicals deemed dangerous by the World Health Organisation and the Pesticide Action Network.


Organic and Fairtrade are vehemently opposed to genetically modified seed.

Organic standards prohibit it; however some international standards allow for accidental contamination in end product (0.9%). Australian organic bodies prohibit contamination.

From a Fairtrade standard: Genetically Modified (GM) crops do not contribute to sustainability in the long run. GM crops increase dependencies on external inputs and discourage an integrated approach in the production system thus inhibiting resiliency. GM crops may also have potential negative impacts on human health and to the environment.

Fairtrade prohibits farmers intentionally planting genetically engineered seed and encourages organisations to raise awareness of GM and write management plans if they’re in an area that grows GM crops.

Animal welfare

Organic standards have good animal welfare requirements (but not as good as other certifications like Humane Choice).

Organic has requirements around day to day animal handling, free range, transport and processing; however it allows some forms of mutilation such as castration, tail docking, dehorning and mulesing.

Fairtrade standards are written for crop farming, which partly explains why it doesn’t mention animal welfare.

In summary

Organic and Fairtrade don’t pretend to be everything to everyone and each do a great job of verifying the products we buy.

As long as you know that when you’re buying Fairtrade chocolate it doesn’t mean it’s organic and when you buy organic chocolate it doesn’t guarantee higher wages for workers.

No certification program is perfect but if you buy a t-shirt with both logos side by side, you’re definitely shopping sustainably.

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