Roundup on the Fair Trade USA/FLO Split

On September 15th, Fairtrade International (FLO) and Fair Trade USA (FTUSA) jointly announced that FTUSA is resigning its membership in FLO, effective December 31, 2011. FTUSA?s resignation from the FLO system is partially due to its new initiative, ?Fair Trade For All? ( which it claims will ?double the impact? of fair trade by 2015.

In an open letter, Rob Cameron, CEO of Fairtrade International, wrote: ?I, the staff at Fairtrade International, and the entire global Fairtrade network sincerely regret FTUSA?s decision to pursue its own approach, rather than continue working within the global system. It is a decision they have taken themselves, and we have to respect their choice.?

Here at the Fair World Project (FWP), Fair Trade USA?s move raises many questions for fair trade producers in the Global South, as well as for fair trade advocates, businesses, and consumers. A major point of contention in the split and ?Fair Trade For All? is FTUSA?s unilateral decision to initiate certification of Fair Trade coffee on plantation and hired labor operations. FTUSA intends to open other commodities, like cocoa, to plantation and hired labor for certification as well. Fair trade was established on the values of supporting small-scale, disenfranchised farming communities, most often organized in democratic cooperatives. Despite claims to the contrary, hundreds of thousands of small producers organized in cooperatives still lack access to fair trade markets. To continue to make progress and expand the benefits of fair trade, these producers must be given priority and support when considering further expansion of the fair trade system. Without strict standards and implementation, the expansion of fair trade to include plantations in coffee and other sectors will most certainly erode standards and dilute fair trade?s impact.

For more details, read FWP’s Statement on Fair Trade USA?s Resignation from Fairtrade International (FLO).

Perhaps the most relevant of posts on FTUSA?s decision to resign from FLO has come from the three key fair trade producer networks, including the Network of Asian Producers (NAP), Latin American and Caribbean Network of Small Fair Trade Producers (CLAC) and Fairtrade Africa. Their perspective can best be summed up in CLAC statement, asserting “we as CLAC join the regret caused by the departure of FAIRTRADE USA and we express the fact that we cannot share its new vision of expansion, since it threatens the empowerment, development and self-management of small organized producers.”

Equal Exchange, fair trade pioneer and coop, supports the position of the fair trade producers networks.? Equal Exchange’s Rob Everts “In our opinion, this represents a continuation of Transfair?s years-long practice of playing to its own set of rules, almost always to the benefit of large scale players in the commodities world and against the interests of Fair Trade?s original primary stakeholders:? organized groups of small scale farmers.”

Vancouver Fair Trade did a good job summarizing some of the background information regarding the split. Read more to learn up on the issue. CRS has also done a good job of unpacking the implications for fair trade producers.

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