Open Letter to Fair Trade USA CEO Paul Rice

June 27, 2012



Mr. Paul Rice, CEO and
Members of the Board of Directors
Fairtrade USA

Dear Paul Rice and Members of the Board of Directors,

We, committed fair trade stakeholders, have been disappointed by the historic actions of Fair Trade USA (FTUSA), especially in recent months, to the point that we can no longer consider FTUSA a valid fair trade certifier and partner without significant changes to its practices. The undersigned have outlined the most important actions that contradict fair trade principles and what FTUSA can do by specific times, to gain credibility and support again in the Fair Trade movement and marketplace.

We believe that FTUSA unilateral actions have undermined FTUSA’s accountability to the very farmers and organizations it purports to help, weakening the integrity of the fair trade movement in the United States, and confusing fair trade companies, activists, consumers and farmers worldwide. The decisions to change the organization’s name from Transfair USA to Fair Trade USA, abandoning FLO and the international system, and expanding the controversial plantation model to coffee, were all made without broad stakeholder consultation or support. Numerous public statements by fair trade producers, artisans, students and other stakeholders have denounced these unilateral and harmful actions.

FTUSA’s strategy to relax fair trade standards in an effort to increase sales and licensing fees, while reducing accountability to farmers, may net some short-term corporate victories. However, FTUSA threatens the deeper foundational goals of the fair trade movement. Fair trade aims to ensure a dignified life to small and marginalized producers by transforming trade relationships and providing market access, while promoting transparency and accountability in trade.

From April 30 – May 2, many diverse voices within the global and domestic fair trade movement came together to discuss how to rebuild a movement that strengthens the integrity and values of fair trade. The meeting included representatives of the many sectors in the domestic and international fair trade movement: farmers, farmer networks, farm workers, organizers, domestic farmers, cooperative fair trade companies, corporate fair trade companies, NGOs and academics. Overlapping sectors and networks joined together to forge a common agenda and strengthen our commitment to develop and implement best fair trade practices, not lowest common denominators. The final day of the gathering included a dialogue with fair trade certifiers and standard bearers, including an FTUSA representative.

Shifting from unfair trade practices requires different tools and approaches than those that led to the unfairness. Adopting “business as usual” strategies may seem efficient but we believe this strategy will ultimately reinforce many of the problems we are all committed to changing, such as unequal market access and marginalization of those most vulnerable to negative impacts of global trade policies and practices.

While FTUSA has done much to develop public awareness and support for fair trade in the USA, we reject FTUSA’s attempts to speak for the entire fair trade movement and call upon FTUSA to change its course. We do not ask you to be perfect, as we recognize the complexity of the work this movement is doing. Yet due to the complexity of change, we do insist that FTUSA openly collaborate with the movement, embody true accountability to all Fair Trade stakeholders and immediately cease unilateral action. Specifically:

  • The governance structure of FTUSA should represent and be vetted by the fair trade movement. We call upon FTUSA to develop a transparent and representative governance structure and process that is accountable to the larger fair trade movement. We ask that a new structure and process proposal, including a transition plan for implementation, be made available for public comment by September 1st.
  • We ask that you immediately cease plans to open up coffee certification on large-scale operations. As a movement we are all committed to improving the lives of workers on large-scale farms, yet we do not have movement-wide consensus that certifying large-scale farms will transform the current unjust system, nor improve the livelihoods of both small producers and workers. The experience of other plantation-produced products, such as tea and bananas, has yet to prove the justification of this approach. To be an active participant in the movement, it is necessary to consider all market and non-market mechanisms of transformation and this needs to be done before labels are approved.

We call on you to join all of us in our march for justice, dignity and democracy.

Alta Gracia
Amavida Coffee
Bean North (Canada)
Cafe Cambio
Cafe Campesino (GA) 
Canaan Fair Trade
CLAC—The Latin American and Caribbean Network of Small Fair Trade Producers
Cloudforest Initiatives
Community to Community Development
Cooperative Coffees
Coutts Coffee (Canada)
Dean’s Beans
Discovery Organics
Doma Coffee
Domestic Fair Trade Association
Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap
Equal Exchange
Equator Coffee (Canada) 
Fair World Project
Family Farm Defenders
Food Chain Workers Alliance
Heine Brothers Coffee (KY)
Higher Grounds Trading Company
Just Works Consulting
Just Coffee Cooperative
Made By Hand
Maggie’s Organics
Organic Valley
Presbyterian Hunger Program, Presbyterian Church (USA)
Rural Advancement Foundation International-US
Santropol Coffee
Sweetwater Coffee (FL) 
Third Coast Coffee
United Students for Fair Trade
Vermont Coffee Company


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