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Fair Trade Lite: Fair Trade USA Moves Away from Worker Co-ops

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Fair Trade & Social Justice page.
Compared to so many other purchasing decisions -- like which humane meat label to trust, for instance -- the "Certified Fair Trade" logo has made buying ethically produced coffee a relatively simple choice. Most of us either buy fair trade or we don't. 

But that's all about to change. As The New York Times reported earlier this month, Fair Trade USA (FTUSA) is breaking away from Fair Trade International, its global parent, and creating new, less stringent standards. For American coffee drinkers, this will soon mean two fair trade labels -- one that will stick with the movement's original intention to work only with small coffee-growing cooperatives, and FTUSA's new label, which will most likely include coffee grown on larger, plantation-sized farms, and products with as little as 10 percent fair trade ingredients. (See the draft of the new standards.)

This split over the definition of fair trade doesn't only risk confusing conscientious U.S. coffee buyers. It also exposes a rift at the heart of this movement over the best strategy for making coffee farming a more sustainable and humane enterprise.

Paul Rice, the chief executive of FTUSA, is positioning the shift as a question of growth and accessibility for the movement. In the Times article above he asks: "Do we want it to be small and pure or do we want it to be fair trade for all?"  


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