Fair trade tea pickers

Fair Trade USA (formerly Transfair USA) incited a controversy with its decision to exit from the Fair Trade Labelling Organization earlier this year. Probably the most widely recognized symbol on products labeled as Fair Trade in the U.S. market, the organization also announced that it would now be including products sourced from factories and plantations in its definition of Fair Trade. The impact on small farmers and producers around the world by the inclusion of large-scale operations jeopardizes the equitable distribution of benefits and the livelihood of thousands of emergent communities. And it sheds light on a bigger question: Do our purchasing habits really make a difference?

Operations like the World Fair Trade Organization represent a global network of members creating Fair Trade products established on a set of principles that provide wages and earnings that enable communities to improve their livelihood, preserve their environment and educate future generations. But that’s being threatened by the shift in focus by the well-established Fair Trade USA, according to the WFTO.

In a statement on their website, the WFTO says that, ” We see little evidence of dialogue, transparency or respect (key aspects that define Fair Trade) in the unilateral decision of Fair Trade USA to widen the scope of Fair Trade in ways that will surely negatively impact those currently involved. This action seems more to satisfy and enrich the very people whose actions caused Fair Trade to be established in the first place at the expense of the small farmer/producer.”

We live in a commodity driven culture. Foods and products we rely on daily like coffee, chocolate, fruits, soap and wood, can often come to us as a result of worker and environmental exploitation. Fair Trade organizations aim to end that by creating opportunities for disadvantaged producers through transparent efforts including safe working conditions, assuring no child or forced labor, caring for the environment and providing fair prices for goods and services.

Supporting products labeled as Fair Trade helps to evolve the opportunities for workers around the world and creates a demand for quality products that support a balanced global economy. It may cost you a bit more at the register, but the hidden costs of exploitation, child labor and environmental destruction are infinitely greater. And says the WFTO, Fair Trade USA’s ‘tradewashing’ of the movement will ultimately deject the Fair Trade industry, “[S]mall producers (farmers and artisans) will not be able to compete against the scale of operation of larger enterprises.”

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Image: Koen van Seijen