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Great news to hear that Fairtrade International has it's office up and running in the USA! I look forward to being in touch and learning about what fairtraders can do to help you recover the integrity of Fair Trade certificaiton in the USA.
Monika Firl, CoopCoffees producer relations manager
Richard... i can totally sympathize. Unfortuantely, now that Fair Trade certification has expanded, diversified, diverted, diluted and probably over-extended it's capacity (or desire) to effectively communicate to consumers about what exactly their criteria actually does and does not cover - it is becoming increasingly the duty of the consumer to watchdog the certifiers!
I am certain that you will see more and more talk of this in the very near future... and i believe that is a positive development in Fair Trade. A cerfication agency is a simple tool to help communicate to consumers about production practices, trading practices, etc. Unfortunately in Fair Trade - the certifying agencies came to believe that they "are" the Fair Trade movement and went off running in many new directions -- leaving consumers, such as yourself, to wonder about the results on the ground.
This is a sad reality, especially since Fair Trade was created as an attempt to bring greater understanding and connection between producers and consumers. There is now a great need to streamline, to go beyond the nice growth numbers that we see quoted and get back into the lives of real people, doing real work under very complicatd living conditions.
This is a dynamic and exciting time in Fair Trade - but definitely a time that demands much more open and transparent communication with consumers.... and the more consumers like you demand answers to your questions, the stronger the movement will become.
And - please don't give up on real Fair Trade. Shop local, shop organic and shop fair! The world will be a better place if you... and we all, are able to do so!
Producer Relations Mgr, Cooperative Coffees.
It is so refreshing to see some media putting out a broader discussion on this unfortunate new iniative by the FT USA office to dilute the meaning and application of Fair Trade.
An estimated 70% of the world’s total coffee production is cultivated by 10 million small-scale farmers, cultivating less than 10 hectares of land in 80 coffee-producing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The vast majority of them lack access to clean water, basic education, decent housing and all too often adequate food on the table. Add to the mix that most coffee-producing countries have economic policies that favour and incentivize large-scale production and traders – thus, leaving small-scale farmers to struggle for market share on a very uneven playing field, left “to compete” without access to adequate credit, inputs or technology.
Those contradictions and inequalities were precisely what Fair Trade had been attempting to address... using trade as a vehicle to promote sustainable development in farmer communities.
Prior to my work with CoopCoffees, I spent 10 years living in Central America and Mexico and working with small-scale farmer organizations. It was during that time when I learned about the countless obstacles these small-scale farmers face and the critical importance of their becoming united in well organized and economically viable cooperatives.
It’s a catchy phrase “changing the world one cup at a time” but we should remind ourselves that purchasing coffee at "fair prices" is only the first step of a very long road. The transformative work has only just begun in farmer communities.... and the possibility for that work to continue depends on our collective capacity to support locally based, farmer organizations. An individual farmer cannot tackle all the economic and political forces working against him.
So, if someone tells you that he believes paying a few pennies more per pound to individual farmers -- or worse yet, trickled down through the local plantation owner -- will have an impact on farmer community development... I say he is either extremely naive or simply leading you on.
Today more than ever - we need engaged consumers to open their eyes, ask questions and dig deeper into the products they purchase... IF they want to have any assurance that they are getting what they think is Fair Trade!
Producer Relations Manager, Cooperative Coffees
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