Webinar on the Difficult Questions in the Fair Trade Community

Last night I attended, “Answering Difficult Questions in your Community” a webinar, moderated by Courtney Lang of Fair Trade USA, and lead by Billy Linstead Goldsmith of Fair Trade Towns, Ryan McDonnell of the Boston Faith & Justice Network, and Joan Harper of Fair Trade Los Angeles. The full webinar will be made available here for anyone who wishes to listen to it. Much of the webinar reinforced what I, and other TrailBlazers, understood from previous discussions with Fair Trade USA. Billy discussed Fair Trade USA’s choice to leave FLO (Fair Trade Labeling Organizations) and its Fair Trade for All pilot program; however, I was also given some insight into how Fair Trade Boston and Los Angeles have responded to the recent controversy with Fair Trade and their own struggles.

Billy started off the webinar by discussing Fair Trade USA, FLO, and the issues surrounding Fair Trade for All and the Coffee Innovation project. Billy explained that Fair Trade USA and FLO agree on the majority of their goals and methods for supporting Fair Trade, but there are some key differences. Fair Trade USA was paying FLO a substantial amount of money which then went into raising awareness in Europe and not the United States. Fair Trade USA left, in part, because they felt that they could use that money to promote awareness in American consumers. Additionally, Fair Trade USA seeks to expand Fair Trade to farmworkers working on bigger farms and who are unable to join cooperatives (see my other blog post).

Billy also discussed the recent stakeholder meeting, where some organizations met to discuss these new initiatives and what it could mean for small farmers (see this an article from FTRN on their reaction). Billy said that Fair Trade Towns wants to open the way for more discussion and invite debate, but in a way that is constructive and will not turn consumers off from the idea of Fair Trade. He also stated that for any global social movement, there have to be different ideas and approaches to solving a problem. Fair Trade USA wants to be transparent and open about what it is doing, and hopes to continue discussions.

Both Joan and Ryan then went on to discuss their organizations and what has been done in the face of Fair Trade USA’s controversy.

Joan first talked about Fair Trade LA and how it had some concerns over Fair Trade USA’s decision to leave FLO. Fair Trade USA responded to these concerns by offering to come and talk to Fair Trade LA. The two groups had a long, intense discussion, as not everyone on Fair Trade LA is in agreement with Fair Trade USA’s actions.  An agreement wasn’t reached, but that, according to Joan, wasn’t necessarily expected from the meeting. However, Fair Trade USA did agree and admit that it hadn’t communicated well and hadn’t been transparent, but were moving to remedy that.

The point that I believe Joan was making, was that while discussions may not right away lead to a compromise, it at least gets the ball rolling. She gave an example, where she had noticed a disillusionment in some people new to the movement, taken aback by the negativity out there. These discussions, even if only a little bit of headway is made, keep the brunt of the negativity from turning consumers off from Fair Trade. “Don’t sugar coat” Fair Trade, but keep the consumers above the fray.

Ryan then picked up the conversation to discuss Fair Trade Boston and its reactions. Like Fair Trade LA, Fair Trade Boston had many diverse opinions about Fair Trade and Fair Trade USA. Their goal had always been to support the “global meets local” aspect of Fair Trade, and so the group decided it would be best to remain out of some of the big national discussions and focus on its local efforts. However, the group did develop an internal policy document to reach some agreement over the controversy regarding Fair Trade USA (mostly involving issues of product labeling, such as Fair Trade Ingredients) to move forward. The document was helpful as it allowed Fair Trade Boston to voice what it liked and disliked about the Fair Trade movement, broadened their perspective, and established a middle ground on the issue.

Ryan then went on to discuss a point that Billy had touched on earlier, that many perspectives on social issues can be beneficial. Ryan elaborated that through these differing perspectives, a middle ground can be found.

Like many of the other discussions we have blogged about, the main message of this webinar was to continue to talk and ask questions about Fair Trade, and to agree to disagree. While a resolution may not be immediate, communication is still important, and with effort, some ground can be established.

Contributed by Sarah DeMartino, Fair Trade Intern


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

Fair Trade Resource Network’s Webinar 6/12

Yesterday I attended the Fair Trade Resource Network’s (FTRN) Webinar on Fair Trade and what the future may hold for North America’s Fair Trade movement. The webinar was hosted by Jeff Goldman, FTRN’s Executive Director, and Sean McHugh, the Executive Director of the Canadian Fair Trade Resource Network (CFTRN). Together, Jeff and Sean painted a complete scene of what has happened so far with Fair Trade and what needs to happen in order to effectively move forward.

From the webinar, it is apparent that the Fair Trade movement has grown a great deal in recent years in North America. In Canada, there is a significant push on college campuses for more Fair Trade, and more groups seeking to further the movement. In the United States, there is now a growing interest in domestic Fair Trade. Additionally, while Fair Trade has been greatly about working with small farmers, Fair Trade USA wants to expand Fair Trade to larger cooperatives, and this has sparked a lot of controversy. Clearly, North American Fair Trade is on the move, changing rapidly, but the point that both Jeff and Sean stressed was the need for better communication.

According to Sean, Fair Trade in Canada has up until recently been splintered, with different organizations all working to support Fair Trade but never working together. With CFTRN, communications have opened up a little bit. There is still a need to expand the social movement, but Canada is hoping to build relationships between each of the various groups. In the United States, there has been a lot going on with all of its organizations, especially now that Fair Trade USA is hoping to also work with larger cooperatives. But, this is a move that many groups do not agree with. While there have been some talks to work these issues out, not enough communication has been happening and a common ground has yet to be found. Building relationships between organizations is especially important with the growing number of different Fair Trade certifications out there. There is no one body governing Fair Trade certification, and while so many groups work independently, consumer confusion grows.

The main message that I took from this talk is the importance of…talking! and communicating to build and foster relationships. We need those relationships in order to plow forward, and while we may disagree with one another, we must accept our differences and continue to work toward a Fairer world.

Contributed by Sarah DeMartino, Fair Trade Intern