Fair World Project Letter to Fairtrade International (FLO) Regarding US Market

March 8, 2011

To: Fairtrade International Board, Executive Team and the Global Operation Team

Fair trade is a social movement and market model that aims to empower small-scale farmers and consumers 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 labor, workplace discrimination and exploitation.


Certified fair trade products now represent a multi-billion dollar industry with over 10,000 products in the marketplace, with more than $1 billion dollars in annual sales in the United States.  Fair trade exists, and has grown largely thanks to the continuous work by fair trade producers, advocates and alternative trade organizations. For fair trade to realize its objectives, fair trade certifiers must significantly improve transparency, accountability to civil society, and governance.


Fair Trade USA’s (FTUSA; formerly TransFair USA) split from Fairtrade International (FLO) has laid bare the numerous fractures in the fair trade community, the lack of accountability to small producers and the marginalization of civil society by FLO and FTUSA.  Fair World Project (FWP) has detailed the failings, challenges and opportunities over the last six months for the fair trade movement and market in the United States, especially in light of FTUSA’s unilateral actions (www.fairworldproject.org).  In the last 12 months FWP has mobilized over 20,000 concerned consumers to take action to improve fair trade standards and policies. 


FLO has made numerous affirmations towards improving the global system, but there is still much work to be done. As part of an ongoing engagement process, FLO convened a meeting in February 28th for fair trade producer representatives, advocates, alternative trade organizations and companies in New York City. FLO representatives proposed a plan for the United States that consisted not of a stand alone Labelling Initiative (LI) composed of members of civil society with representation on the FLO General Assembly, but of a Fairtrade Marketing Operation (FMO) without power to develop and contribute to FLO policies.   


FMOs are FLO’s approach to developing emerging fair trade markets. FWP understands the justification for the proposal of an FMO in an era of scarce resources. However, the US is a mature fair trade market with hundreds of millions of dollars in annual fair trade sales and requires significant attention and resources, or risk losing market share to other low bar social certification schemes.  As one of the largest markets in the world, US fair trade civil society and market representatives need the same voting power as any other LI in the General Assembly in order to impact policy.  FMOs currently do not have voting rights within FLO and thus cannot impact policy or procedural matters. US civil society must be recognized by FLO and have voting power.


Furthermore, FLO must guarantee an accountable and globally recognized governance structure in the United States, be it an FMO or LI. To assure a democratic and representative FMO, FLO must open up the US FMO board application process and prioritize a majority of civil society representatives, including small producer, alternative trade organizations (ATOs) and fair trade advocate organizations.


Without meeting these key provisions, FLO’s proposal for the US will jeopardize the fair trade market in the North America. Despite the hope created by FTUSA’s departure from the FLO system, a failure by FLO to improve the global system and create a high bar standard with a functional and truly representative governance model will hamper fair trade’s expansion and impact for producers. If FLO simply continues FTUSA’s failed model of exclusively prioritizing fair trade sales volume at any cost, without responding to the demands of civil society, FLO will repeat the problematic history of FTUSA.


Fair World Project proposes that FLO seize this unique historical opportunity and create a true multi-stakeholder model in the Unites States that is accountable to civil society and has voting power within the FLO General Assembly.  With one of the largest fair trade markets in the world FLO would be well served to respond to the demands of civil society, or repeat the failures of the last decade.


Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to your plans to move forward.




Dana Geffner

Executive Director

Fair World Project



Fair World Project (FWP) is a campaign of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). The OCA is the largest network of ethical and environmental consumers in North America. The OCA represents over one million members, subscribers and volunteers, including several thousand businesses in the natural foods, organic and fair marketplace. Our US and international policy board is broadly representative of the organic, family farm, environmental, and public interest community.

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