Fair Trade USA Goes Rogue: New "Standards" Undermine Fair Trade Commitment to Farmers and Consumers

By Fair World Project

Fair Trade USA Goes Rogue: New "Standards" Undermine Fair Trade Commitment to Farmers and Consumers

Fair Trade Advocates Reject Certifier Scheme to Allow "Fair Trade" Chocolate Bars to Contain No Actual Fair Trade Cocoa, Among Other Examples

Fair World Project (FWP), a campaign of the Organic Consumers Association, the nation's largest network of green and ethical consumers, rejects leading certifier Fair Trade USA's (formerly TransFair USA) new "Fair Trade for All" initiative and standards revisions. As of January 1, 2012, FWP will not recognize Fair Trade USA as a reputable Fair Trade certifier unless it reverses its proposed labelling and commercial availability standards. This week, FWP sent a letter to Fair Trade USA to convey their position on the proposed changes. To view the letter, go to: www.fairworldproject.org/fairtradeusa.

Fair Trade USA has publicized key elements of the new standards, including labelling policies and multi-ingredient product requirements. The publicized policy revisions drastically diminish the standing of Fair Trade USA as a reputable organization. To carry the Fair Trade USA "Fair Trade Certified (Ingredients)" mark, now a product need contain only 10% certified Fair Trade ingredients, and to carry the "Fair Trade Certified" mark, a product must contain only 25% certified Fair Trade ingredients. But even more egregious, is that once those content thresholds are met, Fair Trade USA will not require that Fair Trade ingredients be sourced and used even if they are commercially available in Fair Trade form, a key requirement of any Fair Trade certification scheme such as Fair Trade USA's former parent organization, the Fair Trade Labelling Organisation. Consequently, companies that have been known for shirking corporate responsibility and Fair Trade, such as Hershey's (www.raisethebarhershey.org), could place the Fair Trade USA mark on their chocolate bars by sourcing Fair Trade sugar but not certified Fair Trade cocoa. What's more, under the new Fair Trade USA labelling standards, a "Fair Trade" chocolate bar could in fact contain sugar, vanilla or cocoa produced using child or forced labour, even though all these ingredients are commercially available in Fair Trade form.

Paul Rice, Fair Trade USA CEO, made explicitly clear in a recent webinar Fair Trade USA will not require Fair Trade companies to source Fair Trade ingredients when commercially available. Without a transparent, enforceable and strict commercial availability standard, there will be little incentive to spur market development of Fair Trade sources of ingredients, while denying impoverished producers with much needed markets. What's more, 100% Fair Trade companies and producers will be unable to distinguish their products in the marketplace from companies that simply source a minor amount of Fair Trade ingredients to fly the Fair Trade for All seal at just 25% or even 10% Fair Trade content.

"Fair Trade USA's new labelling requirements undermine the ability of consumers to make informed choices," said Dana Geffner, Executive Director of Fair World Project. "To expand and develop the Fair Trade market, consumers need to trust that 'Fair Trade' labels reflect their values by being true to the content of the product. Fair Trade is a global movement built upon a foundation of transparency, accountability and integrity. Fair Trade USA's unilateral decisions have failed to uphold these principles."

On September 15th, Fair Trade International (FLO) and Fair Trade USA (Fair Trade USA) jointly announced that Fair Trade USA is resigning from its membership in FLO, effective December 31, 2011. Fair Trade USA's resignation from the FLO system is partially due to its new initiative, "Fair Trade For All" (http://fairtradeforall.com) which it claims will "double the impact" of Fair Trade by 2015.

Fair Trade USA's labelling and commercial availability standards are simply the most recent example of a long line of disreputable actions and policies that have undermined the Fair Trade movement and market. Fair Trade USA's recent decision to certify coffee plantations has drawn the widespread condemnation of Fair Trade producer networks, including the Network of Asian Producers (NAP), Latin American and Caribbean Network of Small Fair Trade Producers (CLAC), Fair Trade Africa and the World Fair Trade Organization. It is inconceivable that an organization whose values include striving to "always act ethically" and "value relationships built on honesty, mutual respect and trust" would advance a program without the knowledge or consent of the very producers it aims to support.

"For years TransFair has eroded the values of Fair Trade with its courting of corporate players demanding an ever-lower bar for entry," said Rob Everts, Co-Executive Director of Equal Exchange. "Now, their fig leaf seal on products containing few-to-zero ingredients from small farmers, combined with the full embrace of the world's largest landholders, will hoodwink consumers into believing they are supporting social change while the system returns small farmers to their marginalized market status of thirty years ago."

Fair World Project recognizes Fair Trade International (FLO) and IMO's Fair for Life Fair Trade products. And will continue to evaluate Fair Trade standards in the marketplace.

Fair Trade is a social movement and market model that aims to empower small-scale farmers and workers in underdeveloped countries to create an alternative trading system that supports equitable trading, sustainable development and long-term trading relationships. Fair Trade supports fair prices and wages for producers, safe working conditions, investment in community development projects, and the elimination of child labour, workplace discrimination and exploitation.

Certified Fair Trade products now represent a multi-billion dollar industry with over 10,000 products in the marketplace. Consumer demand for Fair Trade products has steadily risen over the course of the last decade thanks to the tireless work of dedicated advocates, fully committed companies, and students.

Fair World Project
Article by Fair World Project
Fair World Project is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote organic and Fair Trade practices and transparent third-party certification of producers, manufacturers and products, domestically and abroad. Through consumer education and advocacy, FWP supports dedicated Fair Trade producers and brands, and insists on integrity in use of the term "Fair Trade" in certification, labelling and marketing. FWP publishes a bi-annual publication entitled For a Better World and sponsors regular Fair World Tours of regions with emerging Fair Trade projects to highlight their role in surrounding communities. For more information, visit: www.fairworldproject.org.

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