Danfireside | Indy Week

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Re: “Redefining fair trade coffee

FTUSA's lowering of Fair Trade standards are indeed a betrayal. This is why they have been met with condemnation from every small farmer cooperative in Latin America, as well as by the activists and mission-driven companies that have built the Fair Trade movement over decades.

A few points:

Fair Trade is not a marketing slogan (although FTUSA has trademarked the phrase "Fair Trade Certified" and appropriated the term with their name change). It is movement that arose to change the unjust nature of global trade, to empower small farmers through cooperatives, and to make direct connections between producers and consumers of global goods.

It is true that the global set of standards were weakened several years ago to allow plantations in tea and bananas into the certification regime, although it was Paul Rice and FTUSA/Transfair that led the call for these changes on behalf of Dole, Chiquita and other multinationals. Equal Exchange, along with many producer groups, opposed these changes, and we continue to source our tea, bananas, and other products from small farmer coops and organizations. If farmer coops in some categories are not yet at capacity to fulfill the market demands, it is the job of Fair Trade partners to do the hard work of building these supply chains, rather than just lowering standards.

Even with this division, there are many good reasons to oppose certification for plantations in coffee and cacao. Unlike bananas and tea, which are harvested year-round and have permanent hired labor forces, coffee and cacao are harvested only once or twice a year. It is unrealistic to expect that any agency can provide effective monitoring to a mobile and temporary labor force on large plantations.

Land ownership in virtually all coffee and cacao producing countries is so unequally distributed that it is indefensible to give any kind of market advantage to plantation owners (now politely rebranded as "estates"). There are no maximum plantation sizes in FTUSA's new standards, and they are actively seeking out some of the largest landowners in Brazil to fulfill Walmart's demand for cheap "Fair Trade Certified" coffee.

Even the benevolent landowners of Finca Mauritania that Counter Culture buys from have enough land to place them in the top 20% of land-owning elites in El Salvador. Over 80% of coffee farmers in El Salvador have less than 2 acres of land. Unlike the owners of Finca Mauritania, they have no way to process, grade, or export their coffee directly to buyers, EXCEPT by organizing together through democratically-run cooperatives. But this organization is expensive. Small farmer cooperatives that sell to Equal Exchange, like the Las Colinas coop, provide multiple services to their farmer members. Yet under FTUSA's lowered standards, they would receive the same certification that a large plantation would receive, even if only a fraction of their coffee were harvested under their new minimal plantation standards. Even worse, brokers with no connection to small farmers could earn their seal, and undercut the cooperatives.

FTUSA's new plan is a disaster for small farmer cooperatives. These are the groups that concerned consumers think they are supporting when they purchase products labeled "Fair Trade." In fact, coffee and cacao that carries the new FTUSA seal will actually be harming these cooperatives, and supporting large plantation owners.

FTUSA further engages in a major conflict of interest by writing their own standards at the same time they are taking millions of dollars in donations from Walmart, Levis, and Green Mountain Coffee.

FTUSA and Walmart have the right to buy and label coffee as they choose, but they don't have the right to do it in the name of "Fair Trade."

Daniel Fireside
Equal Exchange

8 likes, 3 dislikes
Posted by Danfireside on 01/05/2012 at 8:30 PM

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