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286. Guest post: Ed Canty explains Green Mountain’s approach to FT4All pilots

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters became the world’s largest Fair Trade coffee buyer in 2010, when it purchased over 26 million pounds of Fair Trade Certified coffee.  The person responsible for all those purchases is Ed Canty, the company’s certified coffee buyer.  But Ed isn’t only in charge of Fair Trade coffee buying for GMCR.  He is also managing the company’s pilot projects with independent smallholder farmers and coffee estates under Fair Trade USA’s Fair Trade for All initiative.  Given that FT4All has been the source of considerable controversy and the subject of much discussion on this blog, I decided to ask Ed if he would share some of his thoughts on the FT4All initiative.  In response, he generously submitted the guest post that follows.

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As the fair trade and organic coffee buyer for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. (GMCR), I’ve been following Michael’s coverage of FTUSA’s Fair Trade for All campaign with great interest.  I appreciate his insight and CRS’s recent announcement that it will independently monitor one of the FT4All pilots.

As we all know, the subject of fair trade is extremely complex. Rather than two opposing positions on FT4All, there is a full spectrum of opinions and perspectives on how Fair Trade can and should do good in the world. The Coffeelands Blog has helped highlight many of those views through postings and comments. I would like to take the opportunity to explain GMCR’s perspective on FT4All, and how we will engage in the pilot programs with both estates and unorganized producers.

An important aspect of GMCR’s involvement in the FT4All pilots is protecting our existing fair trade supply.  We are open to the idea of bringing in additional types of organizations into fair trade, but we will not do so at the expense of existing fair trade partners who meet our performance criteria. We will achieve this through the following:

  • GMCR will not sell coffee from pilot programs as Fair Trade Certified™.

We believe the proper use of the Fair Trade Certified label is essential in educating consumers and gaining their trust. GMCR will treat these pilot groups as fair trade organizations from a purchasing standpoint (with the same quality and price parameters).  However, we will not label the coffee as Fair Trade Certified to consumers until we have evaluated the impact of these pilots at origin.  We are able  to do this because of our diverse brand portfolio of both fair trade and non-certified coffees.

  • Pilot organizations will likely become and remain part of our existing supply chain.

When we sign on a pilot organization, they become a known member of our non-certified supply chain.  Even if the pilot outcome does not favor their inclusion into fair trade, they will likely remain as one of our non-certified suppliers. We will continue to evaluate and work with them as we do our other non-certified partners. We created this policy to alleviate pressure on participating pilot organizations to produce a positive pilot outcome in order to keep GMCR as a customer.

  • Pilot organizations will be offered comparable pricing to fair trade cooperatives.

Rather than just offering 20 extra cents for a social premium, GMCR will negotiate the price paid to FT pilots so it equals the same pricing paid for comparable coffee from fair trade cooperatives (FOB differential).  Because many estates already offer social programs for their workers, offering an additional 20 cents for the social premium would create a difference in price paid between pilots and cooperatives.

  • GMCR will continue to measure coffee quality.

Coffee quality is of the utmost importance to GMCR. We will measure pilot organizations’ success in achieving quality targets.  This is key for existing FT groups to be able to grow their business with GMCR.  Therefore, it is important for our business to measure these pilot organizations in the same way.  While this might not impact the ultimate industry decision regarding these pilots, it will influence GMCR’s decisions to work with pilot organizations in the future.

  • Many stakeholders will measure impact.

GMCR will work with many stakeholders to measure impact.  Impact will be measured by us, by FTUSA, and by third party organizations like CRS.  Third party documentation is going to be extremely important as the coffee industry reviews the results of these pilots. We welcome data-driven reporting from others interested in measuring the impact of the pilots. As captured in the pages of this blog, FT4All pilots have become a contentious issue. The more impact reports we have from objective organizations, the better.

GMCR will review all metrics and impact reports with the following key indicators in mind:

  1. The 20 cent social premium is voted on by producer/workers and has an impact at the household level. The chain of custody for price paid to producer groups is maintained, and democratic voting on the social premium by the producers/workers is verified and impact is measured.
  2. Producer/worker organizations are empowered. While more difficult to measure, the empowerment of producers/workers involved in the pilots is the catalyst for change that Fair Trade is all about. Commonly, voting on a social premium is what brings these individuals together as an organization.  However, measuring empowerment needs to go beyond the impact of voting on a social premium. We want to see what other decisions these organizations are making.
  3. The addition of estates and unorganized producers does not unfairly affect existing cooperatives in our supply chain.

GMCR’s work with FT4All pilots has barely begun.  We are in preliminary discussions with one of our existing conventional organizations that just became a certified pilot and we look forward to partnering with other organizations as they become certified pilots over the next few months.   Once confirmed, we will provide a list of organizations that are in our FT4ALL pilot program and work towards defining some milestone dates around this work.

Again, I would like to applaud Michael at CRS for creating a forum where a broad spectrum of opinions and information can be expressed respectfully and constructively.  It is important for us to engage on this topic together, navigate through change, and define our collective aspirations for what FT will look like in the future.

If you are interested in more information on GMCR’s position on the FTUSA’s FT4All campaign, you can read our official position. You can also read the transcript of a February Fair Trade Resource Network webinar I participated in with Rodney North of Equal Exchange on the FTRN website.


Ed Canty

Fair Trade and Organic Coffee Buyer

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc., Specialty Coffee business unit


















  • Hi Michael and Ed, thanks for the post.

    Ed mentions that, as a part of the review of the pilots, they will look at if “The addition of estates and unorganized producers does not unfairly affect existing cooperatives in our supply chain.”

    I’m wondering how this will be measured? Thanks.

  • Ed Canty says:

    Great question Michael.  

    First, we need to define which pilots we are involved in before we can speak to specific areas of impact. Second, there are likely many indicators that we will need to incorporate into our evaluation. My point is that this is one of the three major criteria we need to keep in mind while reviewing and measuring the success of the pilots.
    Given that, there are two types of competition we need to measure:  
    1) We need to measure competition in pricing to buyers. Our aim is for our other policies around the pilots to help address this (ie. not justoffering pilot organizations 20 cents more for social premiums).  This is specific to the estate pilots.
    2) We need to measure if pilot organizations are taking members away from cooperatives within a region. This is specific to unorganized producer pilots.
    Our approach would be to query our existing fair trade supply chain in that region before, during, and after the pilots to understand any competition issues they experience. 

    I welcome discussion from other stakeholders on how this monitoring should take place.


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