The joint announcement by Fair Trade USA and FLO that the two organizations will be going their separate ways at the end of this year is old news by now. It is still not entirely clear, however, what the split — and Fair Trade USA’s “Fair Trade for All” initiative, with its promise to “adapt existing international Fair Trade standards” — will really mean for smallholder coffee growers.
FLO has expressed its disappointment with Fair Trade USA’s decision and issued reassurances that FLO coffee standards will not change, despite FTUSA’s proposal for “major changes on coffee certification.”
For its part, Fair Trade USA has published a detailed Q-and-A on the decision and the Fair Trade for All vision, including a brief explanation of the expected impacts on producers (minimal over the short term, more opportunity over time, according to FTUSA).
But diverse stakeholders in the Fair Trade system (roasters, non-profits and hybrids) have all have expressed lingering uncertainty — and worse, dismay — over the new FTUSA vision and its potential impacts for smallholder farmers. The following passage of the FTUSA change strategy, which seems to imply the imminent arrival of Fair Trade Certified estate coffee, has been the source of particular concern:
Today Fair Trade standards successfully support both cooperatives and farm workers simultaneously in tea, flowers and bananas, but not in coffee, sugar or cocoa. As a model that seeks to alleviate poverty and empower farming communities, this inconsistency and systematic exclusion within the Fair Trade system is no longer acceptable.
To create a more just and consistent Fair Trade model, Fair Trade USA will adapt existing international Fair Trade standards from tea, bananas and flowers, and apply them first to coffee and then to additional categories over time.
The most distressing expressions of concern come from smallholder producers themselves.
CLAC — the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Small Fair Trade Producers — expressed regret about the move, saying that the decision “threatens the empowerment, development and self-management of small organized producers.”
The CAN Alliance of Fair Trade producer networks in Africa, Asia and Latin America also published a joint statement expressing their disappointment about the decision in general, and in particular the lack of prior consultation regarding the move.
From a note I emailed Fair Trade USA —
“By diluting your Fair Trade model for coffee and cocoa, Fair Trade USA will become irrelevant. No amount of consumer spin can change this.
In quick time, the Fair Trade USA brand will be the equivalent of a “Lifetime Guarantee”. Anyone willing to pay more for this promise?
Your brand demise would be of no interest were it not for the collateral damage it imposes on the entire sector.
Shame on you for dragging others down with you.”