As of December 31, 2011, Fair Trade USA (formerly TransfairUSA) has dropped out of the World FairTrade Organization and lowered their standards to the point where it will hurt small growers—as well as many small, independent shops here in the U.S. As a result, we can no longer recommend their coffee certification at all. Please work with your supplier to source coffees that meet the internationally-accepted FairTrade standards.
The new “Fair Trade Certified” seal is weaker. It allows products to carry the logo even if they contain only a relatively small percentage of certified product, and it also includes coffee grown on large plantations that compete with the small growers. Both of these changes fly in the face of long-accepted international FairTrade standards; we think they are harmful to small producers worldwide. The new standards have already been rejected by Equal Exchange (one of the founders of the U.S. Fair Trade movement), by co-ops in Mexico and Latin America, and by United Students for Fair Trade.
UPDATE – January 18 2012—A news release from Fair Trade USA announces revised standards that will restrict the Fair Trade Certified label to products where 100% of the content is certified! There is no change in their policy to certify large coffee plantations.
Why would Fair Trade USA do this? This is all so new that we don’t know most of the details yet, but the primary goal seems to be to set up a system that allows them to make profitable certification deals that let large corporate roasters like Starbucks and Green Mountain look as if they support fair trade—even as they purchase only a small percentage of coffee that actually meets FairTrade standards. (Perhaps Dunkin’ Donuts and other chains will be next.)
We think the new certification will be very harmful to small farmers in coffee-growing regions, but it will also hurt small roasters and small cafés and coffee shops in this country. Small business owners know that it can be difficult to overcome the marketing and trade advantages enjoyed by huge corporate competitors, but you succeed because your customers deal directly with you and experience the better quality or service first hand. For small coffee growers, the market is thousands of miles away, and the Fair Trade system allows them to market their product successfully at a fair price; it also allows customers here know their purchases support growers who are paid fairly and adhere to strict environmental and quality standards. (Most FairTrade coffee is also certified organic.)
We think it’s important to use only coffee that has real FairTrade certification, meaning that it supports small farmers and small businesses and ensures real environmental responsibility. As of December 2011, we are aware of only two U.S. roasters that have committed to the international FairTrade standards on all their coffees: Dean’s Beans and Equal Exchange. Cafés—urge your supplier to join in this important move to support small growers and small businesses!
For more information on how to support real fair trade, see ‘Support Authentic Fair Trade’ by Phyllis Robinson, one of the founders of the Fair Trade movement.
To get involved, contact us via email.