Today’s Morning Edition on NPR aired a three-minute story on TransFair USA’s decision to abandon the international Fair Trade system, lower standards, and at the same time, allow for the certification of plantations into their newly-launched “Fair Trade for All” initiative. The story featured Equal Exchange co-founder and co-president, Rink Dickinson. At heart is the debate about whether plantation-made products belong in the Fair Trade system or whether the original mission of Fair Trade, supporting democratic small farmer organizations should be maintained and strengthened.
In the interview, Rink defends the position of Equal Exchange, other Alternative Trade Organizations, the United Students for Fair Trade, small farmer organizations, and many Fair Trade activists and members of civil society. We are united in the belief that the goal of Fair Trade is to support democratic small farmer organizations and support their efforts to gain market access, as well as to educate and engage citizens in the North who wish to use their purchasing power to create alternative business, economic, and trade models. We have a long way to go to meet this goal and we adamantly oppose TransFair USA’s unilateral and undemocratic decision to water down the Fair Trade standards and open the Fair Trade system to large plantations (who do not need market access, who already have an unfair competitive advantage over small farmer organizations, and where potential impact has never been proven).
Building small farmer supply chains is hard work and requires long-term relationships, investment, patience, and skill. High-quality coffee, tea, cacao, fruit and other products are most certainly available from these organizations – that is, if deep commitment and integrity are at the core of one’s mission.