Why is this important?
Fair trade at its core is a movement centered on small-scale farmers and producers who are organized democratically. Fair trade markets should be reserved for these farmers; conversely larger scale farms already have an advantage in the marketplace if they are able to enter the fair trade system may cause unfair competition to small-scale farmers. (Note: many larger scale farms hire significant numbers of workers who would benefit from fair labor programs and incentives, though these programs typically look different than fair trade certification, which is understood to be a small-scale farmer movement.)
At the same time, many mission-driven companies and committed brands face higher costs than and steep competition from brands that are more focused on their bottom line. To allow these brands to thrive and ensure maximum benefit to farmers, it is important that certification programs give a market advantage to small-scale farmers and committed brands. As this analysis shows, a pound of coffee carrying a FTUSA or Rainforest Alliance seal purchased from a plantation by a company who also buys significant amounts of coffee on the conventional market looks identical to a pound of coffee carrying the same seal from a brand who only buys from small-scale farmers and is committed to fair trade principles in all aspects of business. This is likely why no committed coffee roasters use either of these seals.
*Fairtrade International recently introduced a new Fairtrade Sourcing Partnership program which would allow a seal, similar to the current fairtrade mark, to be used if 100% of either sugar or cocoa are included, even if no other ingredients are certified, and even if the sugar or cocoa account for less than 20% of the total product. Fair World Project has expressed serious concerns about this program and continues to monitor it. However, because Fairtrade America has committed to restrict participation in this program to off-pack claims it is not a focus of this analysis.
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Updated: January 28, 2014 (Please note this information is up to date based on our own research using publicly available information as well as direct correspondence with programs. Any corrections or questions can be directed to email@example.com.)