Editor’s Note: BriarPatch is glad to provide our readers with both sides in the present disagreement between Trans Fair USA and Equal Exchange on how best to pursue their common goal — fair trade. Gaining a full understanding of the situation from this vantage point is difficult, and those concerned are encouraged to continue reading about developments in the issue.
Dear BriarPatch Community,
As a Nevada City native, long time supporter and customer of BriarPatch, and current Fair Trade USA employee, I am disheartened to see your post about Fair Trade USA and Equal Exchange. I understand that this is a time of great confusion for many, but I hope that you will take a few moments to learn more about Fair Trade USA’s recent decision to begin, slowly and carefully, extending the benefits of Fair Trade to far more impoverished coffee farmers and workers around the world — people that have previously been excluded from Fair Trade because their farm structure does not fit into the traditional cooperative model. Without hearing both sides of the story, it’s difficult to make fully informed purchasing decisions. A one-sided debate can only jeopardize the 1.5 million farmers and workers around the world who benefit from the sale of so many of the Fair Trade Certified products sold in your (our) store.
First and foremost, we greatly respect the work of Equal Exchange; they have done so much to help build the Fair Trade movement in the United States, and they remain a valued licensed partner of Fair Trade USA in coffee and cocoa. At the end of the day, we are all here to achieve the same mission — to alleviate poverty through trade. Yet we also recognize that there are many voices in the Fair Trade system, and varying perspectives on how to achieve our common mission.
Equal Exchange, one voice in the global Fair Trade movement, focuses their work primarily on small farmers organized into cooperatives. The same is true of Fair Trade USA. We too stand strong with the small-scale farmer. The vast majority of our business has always been and will remain within the cooperative sector. Still, with 2 billion people living on less than $2 a day, and the fact that less than 10% of all global coffee production comes from cooperatives, we believe that Fair Trade simply can and must do more, that it must work for more people if we ever hope to make a significant dent in global poverty.
In its current form, Fair Trade principles are applied somewhat inconsistently. In some product categories, like coffee, Fair Trade certification is limited to cooperatives, while in other categories, like bananas and tea, workers on large farms can become certified. Fair Trade USA is working to eliminate these inconsistencies, which exclude so many from the benefits of Fair Trade. Beginning in coffee, we are adapting existing Fair Trade standards from the above categories, and applying them to farm workers on large farms as well as independent smallholders (small-scale farmers who, due to geographic, religious, cultural, or economic barriers, cannot form or join a cooperative). Through this more inclusive model, Fair Trade USA can potentially reach millions more farmers who are currently excluded from the system.
We plan to pilot slowly, and with care, testing 10 to 20 pilot programs over the next few years. Fair Trade USA will assess results at the farm and sector levels, and report on system-wide sales to ensure that the inclusion of new groups does not negatively impact existing cooperatives. Our newly adapted standards are now open for public comment; I highly encourage you to send us any feedback you may have. There is currently one farm certified under these new standards, a 100% organic coffee estate in Brazil called Fazenda Nossa Senhora de Fatima. The farm’s democratically elected fair trade committee has already used the extra income from Fair Trade to provide eye and dental care for the 110 workers and their families. Last week, one of the older farmers with poor eyesight received her very first pair of glasses.
As we begin this innovation, we are committed to ensuring that cooperatives remain strong and competitive into the future, as they are truly the backbone of the Fair Trade movement. Part of this effort includes the development of innovative new partnerships with global financial institutions, industry partners, NGOs, leading social entrepreneurs, and in-country service providers. We call this cooperative strengthening effort ‘Co-op Link’, which focuses on increasing market opportunities, improving access to capital, creating programs to improve quality and productivity, and expanding the training available to cooperatives. For these efforts we have raised a total of $12.4 million since 2006, $5 million in 2011 alone.
Last week I had the great honor of visiting a number of Fair Trade Certified cooperatives in the Dominican Republic. When asked, many of the farmers did not recognize any difference between Fair Trade USA, Equal Exchange, FLO, IMO or any other Fair Trade company or certifier. All they know is that Fair Trade has led to meaningful change in their communities, that it has created opportunities for their children that they themselves have never dreamed of. Whether it be the building of a school, the development of a college scholarship fund, a new healthcare clinic, assistance in organic conversion, or the construction of a cupping lab, Fair Trade truly makes a difference. Hearing the farmer’s stories about life before and after Fair Trade has inspired me more than I can say in words; these people have made me realize that competition in certification is just what we need — it means more Fair Trade products on the shelf, more opportunities for consumers to buy responsibly-sourced products, and more impact back to farmers and workers around the world.
We are all in it for the same mission, for the same people. If products certified by one group speak to you more than another, buy those products, because that is impact. I only ask that we do not spend so much energy defining Fair Trade by who is allowed to benefit, and who can promote. Fair Trade USA currently serves 1.5 million farmers worldwide, yet that is only a tiny fraction of total agricultural sales (less than 1%).
It is my hope that we can all come together in solidarity around the idea of alleviating poverty through trade, continue to support the millions of farmers currently benefiting from the Fair Trade system, and join forces to go after the 99.9% of businesses that have not yet embraced Fair Trade. There is still so much work to be done; let us do it together.
Thank you so much for your time, and thank you for supporting Fair Trade. Every purchase truly does matter.
All the best,