Delicious Living Blog

Stop bashing Fair Trade USA

If you want to complain about an aspect of our food system, there are many other organizations that deserve the brunt instead of Fair Trade USA.


I recently wrote an article for Delicious Living magazine about Fair Trade USA certified spices.  Apart from providing a lovely visual of vanilla, nutmeg, ginger, and Ceylon cinnamon, the piece also provides details on the benefits farmers receive from seeking the certification.

From community centers to tuition for children, Fair Trade USA is an exceptional way to establish global prices for goods that, in the past, have been horribly deflated.

But while discussing Fair Trade items with a friend (who happens to own a coffee shop), I realized that Fair Trade USA has seen skepticism from those in the industry after a decision to separate from Fairtrade International (FLO). After working closely with the folks at Fair Trade USA for my story, I saw a need to clear up confusion associated with the organization.

According to Jenna Larson, communications specialist with Fair Trade USA, the certifying agency has always been an independent organization—each year they paid a significant portion of their revenue to FLO. Departing opens up possibilities.

"One of the main reasons we left FLO is because of our desire to expand the reach and impact of the Fair Trade certification," said Larson. "In it's current form, fair trade principles are applied somewhat inconsistently ... starting with coffee, we are adapting existing, successful, fair trade standards and applying them to groups of independent small farmers, as well as farm workers on larger farms (who do not own land and therefore cannot join a cooperative."

Fair Trade USA is implementing these changes slowly with 10 to 20 pilot programs over the next two years.

I'm infuriated when I hear criticism about organizations like Fair Trade USA because I believe it's aimed at the wrong organization. If you want to bash an aspect of our food system, I assure you there are many other companies that better deserve the brunt.

Fair Trade USA isn’t perfect. As companies such as Dr. Bronner's, Harmless Harvest, and Madecasse have shown that responsibly sourcing ingredients can go much farther.

But Fair Trade USA’s certification serves as a model that provides real and tangible benefits for farmers around the world. I expect its departure from FLO to foster continued rewards to farmers—which will trickle up the supply chain all the way to consumers.

Do you think Fair Trade USA is unfairly criticized? Share in the comments.

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