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Fair Trade USA Questioned for Allowing Large Coffee Plantations

Fair Trade USA’s recent decision to allow some coffee grown on large plantations to receive the fair trade designation has led some coffee professionals to question the meaning of fairness.

The organization recently made the change, it said, to help the individual farmers working on large coffee plantations, while also certifying some products that have as little as 10 percent fair trade ingredients.

“If farmers and farm workers are demanding help, and looking to fair trade for help, if the industry is saying, ‘we want to do more, let us do more,’ why would you want to keep it small?” Paul Rice, who founded Fair Trade USA in 1998, recently tasked NPR in a radio interview.

Critics, meanwhile, told NPR that while the new concessions may represent some form of socially responsible business, they don’t necessarily conform with many peoples’ perceptions of fair trade and what the movement stands for.

“If your goal for fair trade is primarily to improve conditions by some margin, fair trade could work with plantations,” Gustavo Setrini, an MIT graduate student who studies fair trade told NPR. “But if your goal is to set in motion a more dynamic and democratic process of development at the local level in producing countries, there isn’t much historical evidence to say that can happen on plantations.”

For the complete story, including radio: NPR



1 Comment

Rodney North

March 2013 post-script:

For readers looking to dive deeper into this controversy (which carries on today) we at Equal Exchange have put together a comprehensive collection of resources, including:
* A summary of the evolution of Fair Trade certification in the US
* Perspectives from coffee producers across Latin America
* Actions individuals and coffee companies can take to support the original co-op-centered vision of Fair Trade


If readers want to see the results of the Fair Trade USA pilot project for unorganized farmers in Colombia I recommend this series of posts by Michael Sheridan, a rural development expert for Catholic Relief Services, based in Ecuador, and who was very involved in the pilot.

I interpret Michael to be saying that for a variety of reasons the pilot could not, and indeed did not, achieve what a pilot should do – namely establish a baseline of data to measure against; be independent; test a hypothesis in a manner that would be applicable in other settings.
But I encourage you to read for yourself.

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