Keep Fair Trade Fair: Don't Weaken Standards
Support authentic fair trade. Sign the Petition
Support small farmer co-operative. Maintain fair trade standards. Keep plantations out of the fair trade system. Sign the petition hosted by Equal Exchange, the UCC's Coffee Project partner.
It is not an exaggeration to say the fair trade movement is in
crisis. The fundamental purpose of fair trade – to support small farmers in
ways that are good for them, their communities, the environment, and consumers
– is being challenged. There is a division within the fair trade movement
itself with one part of the movement supporting weaker, broader standards (that
would allow even plantation-growth coffee to be certified as fair trade, for
example) and the other part of the movement seeking to maintain standards that
will preserve the movement’s original purpose of helping small farmers.
From the beginning of the movement some 25 years ago, the center
of fair trade has been small farmers who organize themselves into democratic co-operatives to govern and coordinate their efforts, develop
improved methods of farming and processing, engage in community development, and
build power. The fair trade movement was established as an alternative to the
dominant form of agricultural trade that primarily involved large plantations,
agribusiness, and multinational corporations.
To ensure the integrity of fair trade products, in the
1990’s a number of alternative trade organizations, such as the UCC Coffee Project’s partner Equal Exchange, came
together to create an independent certifying agency, TransFair (USA). TransFair’s role was to investigate and
certify that products were meeting the standards of fair trade. Consumers,
seeing the TransFair seal, could be sure the products they purchased met the highest
fair trade standards.
But over the years TransFair has slowly weakened fair trade standards.
For example, despite the opposition of farmer organizations, alternative trade
organizations, and fair trade advocates, TransFair began certifying as fair
trade the bananas, tea, and cut flowers produced on plantations using less
rigorous standards than those used for small farmer organizations. (Read how a
tea-farmer cooperative in India compares with a “fair trade” tea plantation there.) TransFair courted large multi-national
companies, such as Nestle, Chiquita, and Dole, and lowered fair trade standards
so that some of the products produced by these agribusinesses could be certified
and labeled fair trade, despite their poor labor practices and minimal
commitments to the goals and mission of fair trade. Certifying “fair trade” plantations
is at odds with the fundamental purpose of fair trade which is to provide small-farmer
cooperatives with financial and technical resources and access to global
markets that will enable them to compete successfully against plantations. To many within the fair trade movement, it
appears that TransFair is more interested in building its own brand by focusing
on growth and expansion instead of quality and helping small farmers. It is
very surprising and disappointing that the trend toward weaker standards and
certification of plantations has been led by TransFair, the certifying agency that
was charged with upholding fair trade standards.
Differences within the fair trade movement intensified in
- First, TransFair USA changed its name to “Fair
Trade USA,” a move seen by many as an outrageous attempt to brand itself as and
take over the entire fair trade movement in the U.S.
- Second, Fair Trade USA announced further
weakening of fair trade standards.
- Third, Fair Trade USA began certifying fair
trade coffee plantations (in addition to plantations growing other crops), the
very plantations from which the fair trade system was originally designed to
protect small farmers. Given that small
farmer co-operatives already produce more fair trade coffee than can be sold,
sales of “fair trade” plantation coffee will just displace and reduce sales of authentic
fair trade coffee grown by small farmer co-operatives.
While some organizations and individuals within the movement
have been objecting to TransFair/Fair Trade USA’s ongoing erosion of fair trade
standards for years, the most recent changes have sparked outrage and the
desire to bring back the true meaning and purpose of fair trade.
This is an important struggle. Concerned consumers must call
for authentic fair trade. Support authentic fair trade and small farmer cooperatives
by signing the petition.
Justice and Witness Ministries will continue to work with
Equal Exchange, our partner in the UCC Coffee Project, to bring to consumers authentic fair trade products, produced by small farmers
organized in democratic co-operatives. Order authentic fair trade coffee, tea,
chocolate, and other products now.
JWM is thankful for Equal Exchange’s leadership in resisting
the erosion of standards within the fair trade movement. Equal Exchange was one
of the first fair trade organizations in the U.S. and is a leader in the
movement today with some of the largest sales volumes of any U.S. company. Last
year Equal Exchange ceased using Fair Trade USA to certify its products.
To follow the developments in this controversy, read Equal
Exchange’s blog, Small Farmers, Big Change and watch for new postings on the UCC Coffee Project webpage.
Read more about the controversy from Equal Exchange.