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215. Finding balance in the FT4All debates

2011-11-09 Comments Off on 215. Finding balance in the FT4All debates

Just over a month ago, Fair Trade USA CEO Paul Rice sat down for a few hours with CRS staff to make the case for Fair Trade for All, the controversial initiative that is re-writing the rules for Fair Trade Certified coffee in the United States.  I published the notes of that discussion here, and in a month’s time it became the most visited page since I started this blog two years ago today.

In that post, I sought to present Paul’s case unvarnished, without editorializations.  In the following weeks, I published a series of other posts looking more critically at specific elements of FT4All and the underlying conditions it seeks to address.  Unfortunately, those pages have been less read, and many visitors to this blog have come away with the impression that CRS had endorsed FT4All.  Today I try to restore some balance to this blog’s “coverage” of the FT4All debates.

Why I am blogging about FT4All.

CRS has been working since 1995 to promote Fair Trade and has developed dozens of relationships with Fair Trade farmers at origin, wholesalers and activists in the marketplace and lots of other folks in between.  Like so many stakeholders in the Fair Trade ecosystem, we were taken by surprise by FTUSA’s announcement of its break with FLO and its FT4All initiative, and are working hard to better understand these decisions and their implications — both for smallholder farmers and for us in our mission to serve them.  As we try to digest new information and make sense of it in terms of its implications for our work, my posts to this blog are a way to open our discernment process as a multi-faceted international development agency to a broader community of people concerned with the future of Fair Trade.  They are not meant as endorsements but reflections, as well invitations to readers to reflect and dialogue on the momentous changes afoot.

The Paul Rice post.

The Paul Rice post that has attracted so many visitors was not planned.  During a long and ranging discussion of FTUSA’s motivations and vision for FT4All, it occurred to me that many other actors in the FT ecosystem who were similarly searching for clues would appreciate the opportunity to hear the insights that Paul was sharing in a private meeting with me and some of my CRS colleagues.  Later in the conversation, Paul embraced the idea of “radical transparency” for communication around FT4All.  I wanted to test his commitment to that principle by asking him — half-jokingly — if I could publish my notes of our conversation on this blog.  To my surprise and delight, he agreed.

The uncritical transcription of those notes was perceived as an endorsement of Paul’s views.

The Merling Preza post.

In the interest of restoring some balance to this blog’s “coverage” of the FT4All debates, I have published today an interview with Merling Preza, the general manager of the exemplary PRODECOOP cooperative in Nicaragua (a CRS partner organization) and the current president of the Latin America and Caribbean Network of Small Fair Trade Producers (better known as CLAC for its Spanish-language acronym).  Her views on FT4All are very different from Paul’s, and are similarly presented here without editorializations.

You can find some essential background on the Paul Rice and Merling Preza posts here.