Meeting with the Town of Media and Billy Linstead Goldsmith from Fair Trade Towns

This morning two of us TrailBlazers and Dr. Laura Guertin met with members of the Fair Trade Town Committee of Media, Pennsylvania, for their weekly Fair Trade discussion. For this meeting Billy Linstead Goldsmith, the National Coordinator of Fair Trade Towns, spoke to us about Fair Trade Certification and Fair Trade USA’s “Fair Trade for All” initiatives. The meeting helped those of us with general and specific questions about Fair Trade USA and its upcoming plans, and I think we took a lot away from the meeting. The group asked many probing questions, and I think, especially after the Fair Trade Resource Network webinar I attended earlier in the week (see my blog post), these sorts of talks are just what the movement needs.

Here is what I took away from Billy’s Q&A with Media’s Fair Trade Town Committee…  In a nutshell, “Fair Trade for All” is Fair Trade USA’s pilot program testing if Fair Trade can be applied to larger plantations or estates and to small independent farmers who not part of cooperatives but are still not working under ethical conditions. Fair Trade USA hopes to test the Fair Trade model and see if these people can be reached. “Fair Trade for All” is targeting a maximum of 20 plantations and independent farmers in a 2 year pilot program. This program is only testing coffee farms, and thanks to some specific questions, we learned a bit about how Fair Trade USA is hoping to implement its pilots in the large and small and independent coffee farms.

Some questions arose over the Fair Trade premiums, specifically in regards to the plantations. There is worry that it will be hard to distribute Fair Trade premiums to workers. Fair Trade USA does not plan on giving these premiums to the plantations, but instead to the workers themselves. The idea is for the farmers to democratically elect a body to receive the premiums and to decide how to use the money. The money will be used to improve the workers’ communities (improving water, plumbing, electricity, etc). Through these pilot programs, Fair Trade USA hopes to give “…people the opportunity for empowerment and self-government.”

In regards to the smaller, independent farmers, Fair Trade USA is looking to partner with outside organizations, like Catholic Relief Services, to reach people in need of help. Fair Trade USA’s main concern is making sure that workers are empowered and receiving the resources that they need. Traditional global aid is given to countries, but the money and resources are either lost in corrupt governments or heavily stipulated. Fair Trade USA seeks ways to avoid these problems and effectively reach those who need help.

Double checking and evaluating all of Fair Trade USA’s facts, numbers, and data is a third party group called the Coffee Innovation Council. Fair Trade USA did an open call for nominations, making sure it was formed with those concerned with these pilot programs in mind and people who would be critical.

There are many concerns facing “Fair Trade for All,” one of the most pressing being the question of whether or not Fair Trade is the right model for working with these groups, especially the plantations. Fair Trade USA is optimistic that Fair Trade will be the right model and plans to continue to use FLO’s standards. Their hope is to create a program that is flexible enough to change and adapt to the workers’ needs and problems. However, this is not a long term commitment, and if the pilot does not work, then it will end.

Billy’s final message was to not “…take anything at face value…be critical” and question anything and everything that is going on in the Fair Trade movement, including Fair Trade USA. As consumers and Fair Trade advocates, we need to ask questions, open up dialogs, and hold people accountable.

-Contributed by Sarah DeMartino, Fair Trade Intern