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287. The Fair Trade split — and CRS — in the news

2012-07-05 Comments Off on 287. The Fair Trade split — and CRS — in the news

It is turning out to be a Green Mountain week.

On Monday, I published this guest post by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Fair Trade coffee buyer Ed Canty on the company’s approach to the Fair Trade for All pilots with independent smallholder farmers and estates.

And today, the Burlington Free Press — the Green Mountain State’s paper of record — published this long article on FT4All and the FTUSA-Fairtrade International split, which cited the Coffeelands blog and quoted CRS.  Here is a bit more context around the content related to CRS.

The Cooperative Movement in South America.

The article of the author suggests that the cooperative movement in South America is not strong.  And that I said so.  I would be surprised if I did say that, as I know the opposite to be true.

The cooperative movement in South America is actually quite strong.  Peru alone has 67 Fair Trade Certified coffee cooperatives – more than any other country in the world.  Colombia is second, with 46.

What I meant to suggest in our conversation is what I have stated in public communications on this issue in the past: that the circumstances that determine whether cooperatives thrive or don’t are highly context-specific.  This context-specificity helps explain why the country where I live — Ecuador — has only two Fair Trade Certified coffee cooperatives, when its neighbors have so many.  Or how Colombia can have more Fair Trade cooperatives than any other country in the world except Peru, but only one in all of Nariño – there is something about the Nariño context that doesn’t favor cooperatives.  Or how Peru can have the highest number of Fair Trade Certified cooperatives today, but also be the source of the anecdote I shared in the story, which comes from Peru during the 1980s – the context has changed over time to allow a thriving cooperative movement to emerge in Peru.

CRS as “The Arbiter.”

The article also positions CRS as the “arbiter” of the current debate over the future of Fair Trade Certification — a role we would not have ascribed to ourselves.

CRS has been privileged to work over the past 10 years with Fair Trade Certified cooperatives in Central America and Fair Trade coffee companies and consumers in the United States.  On the basis of this engagement, we have been invited to accompany different kinds of actors all along the Fair Trade coffee chain, and to weigh in on issues affecting the North American Fair Trade movement.  We welcome the opportunity we have as a result of our involvement in the Fair Trade for All pilot in Colombia to contribute more meaningfully to the ongoing debate about the evolution of the Fair Trade model.  And we do believe we are uniquely positioned as a result of our engagement with the pilot to introduce to the discussion impartial, results-based evidence on the impacts of FT4All on independent smallholder farmers.  I would not suggest, however, that CRS is in any way the definitive arbiter of the FT4All debate.  Roasters, importers, consumers and every other kind of Fair Trade coffee stakeholder will have to decide which model of Fair Trade is right for them.  Our contribution will be one factor among many that we hope will help people all along the coffee chain make better decisions about their engagement with Fair Trade Certification.