As of the beginning of January, Fair Trade USA is no longer part of the world fair trade organization, and has "gone its own way." Paul Rice, president and CEO, tries to justify this in Triple Pundit, suggesting that by making certain changes, they could double their impact in three years. The most important change is in certification of coffee, where Fair Trade certification was limited to farmers cooperatives.
Fair Trade USA resigned our membership from FLO in order to eliminate these inconsistencies which exclude so many from the benefits of Fair Trade. Beginning in coffee, we are adapting Fair Trade standards for both workers on large farms and independent small holders. Through this more inclusive model, Fair Trade USA can reach over 4 million farm workers who are currently excluded from the system.
Unfortunately, support of the small farmer against the huge agricultural corporations was one of the cornerstones of the Fair Trade movement. Small farm organizations say that the US move "threatens the empowerment, development and self-management of small organized producers."
In fact, according to Gavin Fridell, author of Fair Trade Coffee: The Prospects and Pitfalls of Market-Driven Social Justice, it may be all about Starbucks. He writes:
Currently, only coffee cooperatives composed of small farmers are certified by FLO. Corporations like Starbucks have long pushed for this rule to be eliminated so that they can expand their fair trade certification while working with their traditional coffee suppliers, giant landowners in the South.
FLO has resisted these demands for years, insisting that there are millions of small scale coffee farmers who desperately need the support of fair trade standards. Organized into cooperatives, these small farmers represent an alternative and more socially just model to corporate coffee plantations that already have significant economic and political advantages over small farmers in the global market.....
In breaking with FLO, Fair Trade USA has declared its keen readiness to certify coffee plantations, as well as take the necessary steps to rapidly expand fair trade certification and sales, while providing “farmers with tools, training and resources to thrive as international businesspeople.” Starbucks is no doubt ecstatic over the move as it will now be able to expand its certification without making major changes to its business practices. In fact, the door is now wide open for any number of changes to ‘fair trade’ certification as corporate partners line up to propose suggestions to Fair Trade USA, willing to do what it takes to get more corporations on board.
So we now have the corporatizing of Fair Trade in the USA. Because as we learned in the wood wars between SFI and FSC, workers rights, coops and unions are an anathema to American business.
In the rest of the world, people are beginning to wonder if it isn't as important to support the small independent coffee shop instead of the big corporate chains as it is to buy fair trade coffee. In America, it's all about Starbucks and the power of corporations, as Fridell notes:
While on the surface this might appear strictly as a split between two different organizations, in reality it represents something much deeper: the further penetration of the world's true ‘occupying’ force, the corporate sector, which seeks not only to dominate economics and politics, but to occupy all of our social and psychological space, right down to our desire for ethics and justice.
Meanwhile, a lot of Canadian roasters, who remain committed to Fair Trade International, are gearing up to sell more in the USA to people who believe this is important. I love Kicking Horse Coffee.
Follow me on Twitter