Why ‘Fair Trade’ Cleaning?

Fair Trade typically is a business principle whereby “products are imported and/or distributed by organizations who have Fair Trade at the core of their mission and activities (commonly referred to as alternative trading organizations), using it as a development tool to support disadvantaged producers and to reduce poverty.” (Wikipedia) This usually applies to handicrafts, coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, bananas, honey, cotton, wine, fresh fruit and flowers. In other words, people in developing nations are paid fairly for products that they make or grow and harvest.

But what about service industries? When you spend $3.00 for that cup of Fair Trade coffee in a coffee shop here in Canada, how much is the person behind the counter earning? Is it something close to minimum wage? Is that still fair trade?


In May 2006, Jan Wong of the Globe and Mail, wrote a scathing series of articles on the cleaning industry in Toronto, in which she exposed the miserable conditions in which the cleaners worked and how they were treated, both by the agencies they worked for and by the clients. They were often paid less than minimum wage. Agencies get around this by paying their cleaners on a commission basis rather than hourly. Ms Wong rightly referred to cleaners as the ‘untouchables of the Western world’.

I started Fair Trade Cleaning in answer to a need to raise the cleaning industry out of poverty. It simply meant lowering my profit margin—taking the greed out of the capitalist model. I hope others follow suit. So what about a truly fair trade coffee shop? And what other services are ripe for fair trade?

Matti Sevink