Our Co-op s Journey to Domestic Fair Trade Certification
JOIN OUR MAILING LIST
Enter Email
CONTRIBUTE TODAY
FOLLOW US ON
FEATURED CAMPAIGN

 Watch the Video

FacebookTwitterGoogle+EmailShare


Aug 23, 2010
 

About seven years ago, our co-op was confronted with the reality that organic grains were becoming commodified. Cheap organic imports were undercutting domestic relationships built over many years. Rumors abounded of organic fraud relating to these imports, but investigation and enforcement during the Bush years were lacking. The stark reality was that an industry founded by mission-based pioneers and ethical retailers was being muscled or bought out by profit-driven corporations and conventional food retail chains, for whom a piece of paper (organic certificate) often superseded a long-term relationship. This was a large problem for our co-op, as the brunt of this consolidation is usually born by farmers in the form of lower prices.

 

However, there was a huge disconnect. The core organic consumer, whose support built the organic industry, was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the change in the industry and the offerings provided by corporate organics. Whereas organics once meant raw materials from domestic family farms, it now may mean, for example, raw materials from Chinese government-controlled farms*. Whereas it once was implicit that organics meant fair wages and dignified working conditions for farm workers on family farms, it now could mean exploitative working conditions on large plantations, similar to what is found in conventional agriculture.

We felt, as a farmer-owned co-operative that paid good prices to our members who in turn paid fair wages to their farm workers, that we needed to differentiate our organic grains from mass-imported organic grains. To do this, we decided to become certified to fair trade standards. The only problem was that there were no fair trade standards for domestically grown crops, and there was no domestic fair trade seal or market identifier.

 

There was the added issue that additional ethical and environmental standards were being demanded by core organic consumers, such as sustainable packaging, animal welfare and emissions standards. But this would involve multiple seals on packaging, and label fatigue could set in. To solve this problem, could we not put these additional ethical and environmental standards under one seal In 2003, our co-op set out with our partners to develop a supply chain that was not only certified organic but also certified fair trade and designed to incorporate additional standards as they came about. Thus, the fairDeal supply chain non-profit was born, to offer one seal for multiple standards, with the initial requirements for membership being both certified organic and certified fair trade. We still had a problem, though, as the fairDeal program needed a domestic fair trade standard to comply with.

 

As it happened, we were not the only group who understood this disconnect. Others were determined to organize for the integrity of organics and the advancement of domestic fair trade. So, in December of 2004, a meeting was called between Organic Valley Co-op, Equal Exchange, the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP) and Farmer Direct Co-operative. This meeting led to the founding of the Domestic Fair Trade Association (DFTA), an organization that has blossomed to over thirty members with representation from each part of the supply chain, from farmers and farm workers to retailers and food manufacturers (see http://www.dftassociation.org). And with it, the fairDeal program found its domestic fair trade standard in the AJP.

 

The AJP, a collaboration between organic farmers, farm workers and NGOs, came together in 1999. They recognized that organic certification did not address the people, farmers or farm workers who make organic agriculture a real alternative to conventional agribusiness. This represented a significant omission, since historically progress towards social justice has been one of the basic principles of organic agriculture (see http://www.agriculturaljusticeproject.org).

 

For us, it was also significant that the AJP standard was developed by the very people it was meant to protect – farmers and farm workers. The AJP was a genuine grassroots effort to improve the lives of those working in agriculture.

Starting in the Summer of 2006, fairDeal undertook to become the first organization in North America to be certified to domestic fair trade standards. The process was enlightening, as although our farmers had excellent informal relationships with their workers, the AJP standard required that these relationships become formalized through written contracts and policies. Additionally, the integrity of the audit and standard was excellent, with each farm worker being interviewed separately from the group, so that any concern or violation could be discussed in private with the auditor. After four years and three inspections, Farmer Direct Co-op received our AJP social justice certification.

 

We were almost on our way, but there was a catch. Our members, some of them organic farming since the 1970s (even before certification), had learned hard lessons from their organic experience. How are we going to maintain our differentiation when publicly-traded companies and other profit-first enterprises co-opt domestic fair trade once a market had been developed With the incursion of Nestlé into fair trade chocolate, we knew that fair trade, domestic or otherwise, was now on the corporate radar. Once co-opted, would domesti

Download PDF

FacebookTwitterGoogle+EmailShare

Truly Equitable Trade: A Vision for Transformative Markets

credit - Equal Exchange Coop - Cooperativa Norandino Members

Fair trade has shown itself to be a successful model for building capacity and allowing marginalized producers to enter the market. Yet the fair trade movement is falling short of its potential to achieve genuine, profound, inclusive and democratic fair trade that truly transforms the way in which markets and economies are established. In June […]

The Road to Food Sovereignty

Global Land Use and Food Production Statistics

For every dollar consumers spent in supermarkets, health and environmental damages cost two dollars more. Our planet can no longer afford the industrial food chain that is destroying our planet and our health. The solution? To support the interlinked network of small-scale farmers, livestock-keepers, pastoralists, hunters and gatherers, fishers and urban producers who already feed […]

Fair For All: The Climate Solutions Embedded in Fair Trade

Woman picks Papaya - Serendipol - Dr Bronner

Experts agree, it’s high time we make some changes in the ways we grow food and crops. The good news is that small scale-farmers and their fair trade cooperatives are already leading the way to a new future—read on for seven principles that fair trade and climate advocates can agree on. Written by Anna Canning […]

Collaborating to Cool the Planet

photo-credit: Coop Coffees - Training group

How Farmer-to-Farmer Trainings Are Spreading New Solutions to Climate Change In the fall of 2017, Grow Ahead, a partner of Fair World Project, successfully crowdfunded a farmer-to-farmer training in Nicaragua. Here’s what José Fernando Reyes of Norandino Cooperative in Peru has to say about his experience. How Farmer-to-Farmer Trainings are Spreading New Solutions to Climate […]

Building Power From the Ground Up

Black Dirt Farm Collective

“There is no food sovereignty without land; land really is the basis of power, and it does not get simpler than that. Land is the primary mechanism for many of us poor folks and people of color to actually have something to stand on and have a future to farm. And it is not just […]

Product Picks

Tortilla Stones

We asked members of our staff and editorial board for some of their current favorite products that support traditional foods and the communities they are rooted in. Find them online or at your favorite natural food store! Deforestation, decreasing biodiversity, increasing pesticide use – those are just a few of the ways that our industrial […]

Fair Trade is the Pathway to Regenerative Agriculture

Coop Coffee

The movement for a food system that sustains people and planet is been growing. Fair trade offers a model to incorporate fair livelihoods and the true cost of production into regenerative agriculture models that are both new and very old, feeding the world and tending the planet. Written by Ryan Zinn The climate is changing, […]

A Soil-to-Soil Vision for the Fashion Revolution

Paige Green - Fibershed

From origins in Northern California, Fibershed is building a global network of regional regenerative fiber systems. Founder Rebecca Burgess describes her vision for vibrant local fibersheds that connect us to the landscapes that grow what we wear and sustains a new generation of farmers, ranchers, natural dyers and mills. From conventional cotton production, which uses […]

Fair Trade As We Do It: the Story of Jumbo Nuts

Annie Jose sewing rice seeds into her rice paddy

Fair Trade Alliance Kerala, the small-farmer collective I work for, is recapturing the homestead farming traditions of Kerala. Our goal is to grow to about 10,000 farming families stewarding about 40,000 acres of farmland, creating conditions that are akin to a tropical rainforest in crop diversity and biodiversity. For us, biodiversity is a food security […]

Regenetarians Unite!

Regenetarians Unite

As eaters, we have a choice: will our diets restore and replenish the earth, or will they deplete it? An exploration of three key principles that look beyond simple distinctions between omnivore and vegan towards a new Regenetarian ethos. By David Bronner How the Regenerative Agriculture and Animal Welfare Movements Can End Factory Farming, Restore […]