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Factions in the Fair Trade movement

From the July 2012 issue.

A discussion of Fair Trade USA's decision to certify outside of smallholder farms.

Fair Trade USA CEO Paul RiceBy Christine Grimard

It was with expected caution that Sandy Yusen, Director of Public Relations for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) Specialty Coffee Unit, broached the subject of what can diplomatically be called the ‘changes’ taking place in the Fair Trade movement.

“We want to make sure consumers are not confused,” says Yusen. It’s a natural reaction coming from someone looking after communications for the largest buyer of Fair Trade certified coffee in the world. By 2010, GMCR had purchased over 11,800 tonnes of Fair Trade certified coffee, delivering more than US$9.8 million in community development funds to coffee farmers. Last year, the company made a US$300,000 grant to Fair Trade USA (FTUSA) to support Fair Trade Towns and Fair Trade University programs.

Yusen’s caution in speaking about Fair Trade follows the animated debate sparked from what has been dramatically dubbed the ‘Fair Trade break-up’: FTUSA’s official resignation from membership of Fairtrade International (FLO) as of 31 December 2011. The move was followed by the American entity’s decision to adapt existing Fair Trade standards for farm workers on plantations, as well as for small farmers who are not able to form, or take part, in cooperatives. FTUSA is proposing taking current standards being used in products like tea, bananas and flowers, and begin applying them to coffee. Since its inception, Fair Trade certification in coffee has been limited to small producer organisations. FTUSA’s decision would see the first coffee plantation certified under a pilot project in Brazil.

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