The manager of a Fair Trade coffee cooperative in Central America told me recently that Fair Trade USA’s decision to make estates and independent smallholder farmers eligible for Fair Trade Certification is creating another version of Fair Trade — one that has very little to do with his idea of what Fair Trade is all about.
Fair Trade USA may be introducing radical change to the U.S. market for Fair Trade Certified coffee, but splintering is nothing new to Fair Trade. For more than a decade after the advent of Fair Trade Certification, the generic “Fair Trade” banner has obscured considerable diversity and no small amount of tension within the movement. Up until now, the relationship bewteen the mission-driven and market-based currents of the movement has been complicated at times, but stable and mostly manageable. The introduction of two new production systems and three new sets of standards, however, has multiplied its variants and renewed debate about the core principles of Fair Trade. One observer wonders whether Fair Trade will fall apart.