Organic Consumers Association

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Fair Trade Purists Cry Foul at Including Big Farms

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Fair Trade & Social Justice page.

MONTPELIER, Vt. - After a quarter-century working to improve the lives of farmers in places like Latin America and Africa, the fair trade movement is at a crossroads.

Will it expand its mission to include bigger players and a larger share of the markets in coffee, cocoa, bananas and other products? Or will it stay with its original purpose, empowering small farmers, often working through cooperatives, with higher prices for their crops and more clout in setting international trade practices?

In Vermont, which has long prided itself on being home to companies that pursue both profits and a social mission, the question gained broad notice on May 20, when the fair trade policies of Waterbury-based Green Mountain Coffee Roasters were targeted in a full-page ad in The Burlington Free Press.

Bridgewater, Mass.-based Equal Exchange Inc., which markets fair trade coffee, chocolate and other products, called on Green Mountain to sever relations with Oakland, Calif.-based Fair Trade USA, the national leader in certifying products as eligible for the fair trade label.

So far in the history of the movement, fair trade "has exceeded all expectations for success," the Equal Exchange ad said. "More small farmers have market access, improved living standards, and have achieved greater economic control and political power."

Fair Trade USA "changed the rules to allow large-scale plantations and private estates into the (fair trade) coffee system," the Equal Exchange ad said, "potentially putting at risk the very survival of the farmer cooperatives."

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