Is Fair Trade Coffee Still Fair If It Comes From A Big Farm? | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

Is Fair Trade Coffee Still Fair If It Comes From A Big Farm?

When you buy food that is labeled fair trade, you do so to support farmers who meet certain social and environmental standards. But some companies now disagree about whether a new take on fair trade can really be called "fair."

Traditionally, fair trade has been "the idea that the small farmer gets a direct connection to the U.S. consumer or the European consumer; it's a way that people in their everyday lives can support farmers directly and make the world better," Rink Dickinson, president and co-founder of Equal Exchange, told Murray Carpenter on Morning Edition. Equal Exchange is a Massachusetts-based, worker-owned cooperative that now does $40 million in sales of fair trade products a year.

But as Carpenter reports, another major player in the fair trade industry wants to change that definition. Fair Trade USA, the country's largest fair trade certifier, recently decided to allow some coffee grown on big farms to earn the label.

One reason, the group says, is to help the poor farmers that work on plantations. It also wants to certify products with as little as 10 percent fair trade ingredients; that's half of what's allowed in most countries.

Paul Rice is president of Fair Trade USA, which was founded in 1998. He says fair trade is reaching the limits of growth, and allowing more farms to participate will expand the program's reach.

He has seen the movement grow dramatically, supported by sales from companies like Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Starbucks. This year Fair Trade USA will certify 130 million pounds — nearly 5 percent of the U.S. coffee market.

"If farmers and farm workers are demanding help, and looking to fair trade for help, if the industry is saying, 'we want to do more, let us do more,' why would you want to keep it small?" Rice told Carpenter.

This doesn't sit well with Dickinson. "That's no longer fair trade," he says. "That's another form of socially responsible business."

According to a recent report in the New York Times, many fair trade programs around the world already certify bananas, tea and flowers from large farms. But fair trade coffee and cocoa are typically grown on small farms organized into cooperatives.

The label dispute reflects two fundamentally different views of fair trade, says Gustavo Setrini, a graduate student at MIT who studies the fair trade movement.

"If your goal for fair trade is primarily to improve conditions by some margin, fair trade could work with plantations," Setrini told Carpenter. "But if your goal is to set in motion a more dynamic and democratic process of development at the local level in producing countries, there isn't much historical evidence to say that can happen on plantations."

Either way, the proposed changes in the industry may make it harder for consumers to know just who is growing their coffee, and just how fairly they are treated.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

As Publishing Industry Courts China, Authors Speak Out Against Censorship

Chinese writers and publishers are being celebrated this week at BookExpo America — the industry's largest trade event in North America. Free speech advocates are supporting silenced Chinese writers.
NPR

Cod Comeback: How The North Sea Fishery Bounced Back From The Brink

A decade ago, fishermen trying to catch North Sea cod were coming up empty. Now, thanks to strict fishing rules put in place to halt the decline, this fish tale looks headed for a happy ending.
WAMU 88.5

D.C. Immigrants Remain In Shadows While Reform Hits Roadblock

The administration's appeal to lift an injunction against his executive actions on immigration reform was denied. Consequently tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the metro D.C. area will continue to live in the shadows.
NPR

FCC Chairman Wants To Help Low Income Americans Afford Broadband

Tom Wheeler proposes to reboot the Lifeline phone-access program. The plan recognizes that everyone needs to study, apply for jobs and make social connections online.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.