When FTUSA decided a few months ago to fundamentally rewrite the rules of Fair Trade for the U.S. market, the news hit the Fair Trade fold with all the force of an earthquake. The aftershocks have been making themselves felt for weeks: position statements by smallholder farmer networks, governance shake-ups at competing certifiers, ranging debates among coffee chain actors,
defiant screeds lenthgy expositions from Fair Trade pioneers, etc.
Through it all, there was a notable silence from the industry press and mainstream media. If it weren’t for a few lonely coffee bloggers and the occasional newswire story, you might think it never happened. That changed today, when The New York Times published a profile of a movement at a crossroads.
As has so often been the case since the paper was established way back before the Civil War, the NYT take on the issue is likely to be an influential one, if not definitive. So if you haven’t read up on the debate yet, best to start here.
The article frames the debate rather starkly. It quotes two of our U.S. partners who are opposed to FTUSA’s plans to expand eligibility for participation in the U.S. Fair Trade coffee market: Equal Exchange (“They’ve lost their integrity”) and Dean’s Beans (“Fair Trade USA has changed the rules of the game”).
It also cites two of our overseas programming allies who have remained open to the changes underway in the Fair Trade system., Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (“Fair Trade USA’s vision presents new opportunities”) and Starbucks.
It doesn’t suggest there is too much middle ground bewteen these two positions, or much opportunity in the current debate beyond perhaps “understanding what is in the can” of worms it has opened.
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The article also makes a confusing reference to CRS, warning of a “logo overload” in Fair Trade markets that would presumably include “labels from smaller programs, like one run by Catholic Relief Services.”
I sure wish the author had contacted my colleagues who run our Fair Trade Program in the United States before running the article. They would have explained that although our CRS Fair Trade logo does look like a certification stamp, it is nothing of the sort. I suspect they will issue a statement of clarification in the coming days that I will publish here.