Archive for September, 2012

I read Michael Sheridan’s reflections about the recent article in The Nation, “The Brawl over Fair Trade Coffee,”but had too many comments to respond on the CRS Coffeelands blog that he hosts.  I have a great deal of respect for Michael and always appreciate his thoughtful, intelligent approach and his commitment to on-the-ground development work with farmers.  However, while I applaud Michael’s attempts to be objective, I was left puzzled by some of the logic behind his critique of The Nation article and his apparent support for the Fair Trade For All initiative.

Michael’s biggest critique of The Nation article seems to be two-fold:  1) while there is near unanimous agreement that “the process by which FT4All came to be violated core Fair Trade values of transparency and dialogue” and the fact that the initiative includes elements opposed by most of the Fair Trade community, it is somehow unfair to criticize the initiative until we see the results; and 2) those who criticize “corporate” Fair Trade are not recognizing the benefits it has generated for smallholder farmers.

I tried to read Michael’s comments with an open mind, but I’m afraid that I’m still plagued by two critical issues which I just can’t overlook. They are as follows:

1.  Is it possible to “empower” farmers with one hand while stripping away their power with the other?  In a system whose very foundation and philosophy was built upon the principles of strong and equitable relationships, democratic processes, deep integrity and trust, can an organization take unilateral actions which fly in the face of all those principles and still expect their initiative’s results will be judged impartially?  Is it even possible to evaluate results while ignoring process when the whole basis of the Fair Trade system is to create a new way of conducting trade and doing business which most of all includes respect and integrity?

In his response to Michael Sheridan’s comments, Jonathan Rosenthal makes this point beautifully.  He compares Fair Trade USA’s actions to a political candidate who proposes “…to bring direct financial prosperity to women or people of African heritage along with rescinding their voting rights…” saying, “…clearly, we would focus on the loss of rights, not on the programs for financial prosperity.”  I couldn’t agree more with Jonathan. (more…)

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Rink Dickinson and other Equal Exchange staff discussing current issues in the Fair Trade certification system with representatives of east coast food co-operatives.

“Authentic fair trade is critical to the farmers whose livelihoods depend on it. But defining “authentic” fair trade and communicating this distinction to businesses and consumers is a challenge. Equal Exchange is doing an admirable job of clarifying the difference between businesses that engage in authentic fair trade and businesses that are seeking to exploit the fair trade label… I hope that Wild Oats can pass the Equal Exchange message about authentic fair trade on to its members and customers, especially during Fair Trade Month this October.”

Robin Riley, Marketing/Member Services Manager
Wild Oats Market, Williamstown

Some of you may have noticed that the blog has been quite inactive of late.  You might even have been wondering what’s happening with our Authentic Fair Trade Campaign these days.  Are we still asking folks to Stand with Small Farmers and if so, how?  What does the overall landscape look like and what role are Equal Exchange and our partners playing in this new panorama? (more…)

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We just received the following press release from our friends at Dr. Bronner’s.

NARB Recommends Fair Trade USA Modify Composite-Products Seal to Better Inform Consumers of ‘Fair-Trade’ Sourced Content

New York, NY – Sept. 17,  2012 – A National Advertising Review Board (NARB) panel has recommended that Fair Trade USA – formerly TransFair – require users of the organization’s “Fair Trade Certified” seal for composite products to provide additional information to consumers.

NARB is the appellate unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

By way of background, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, manufacturer of personal care and cosmetic products, challenged before the National Advertising Division (NAD) the truthfulness and accuracy of claims made with respect to “Fair Trade Certified” seals licensed by Fair Trade USA.

Dr. Bronner argued before NAD that the use of the Fair Trade USA “Fair Trade Certified” ingredient seal for composite products falsely implied that fair-trade sourced ingredients constituted a substantial part of the product.

NAD determined that use of the “Fair Trade Certified” ingredient seal on the front panel of product packaging – in a context that included a statement of fair trade sourced ingredients on the front panel and identification of fair trade sourced ingredients in the ingredients panel – accurately conveyed the degree to which fair trade sourced ingredients are included in the product.

Dr. Bronner appealed NAD’s determination to the NARB.

NARB, in its decision, said it “recognizes there are a number of organizations that provide fair trade certifications and applauds their work in promoting fair trade. While it is not the panel’s role to determine acceptable thresholds or standards used by certifying organizations, it is the panel’s role to recommend changes it believes are necessary to ensure that fair trade certification seals convey an accurate message to consumers. The fact that there are no generally accepted or legally required thresholds for the amount of fair trade sourced ingredients in composite products … makes it even more important that consumers receive an accurate message as to the fair trade content in products displaying the seal.”

Specifically, the panel found that the placement of the “Fair Trade Certified” ingredient seal on the front of a package conveyed a message of significance to consumers.

The “identification of fair trade sourced ingredients on the ingredients panel, which normally appears on the back or side of the packaging, is not enough to overcome or qualify the implied message of significance conveyed on the front of the package,” the panel stated. (more…)

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By Rodney North, The Answer Man

You may have heard about a new meta-study by researchers at Stanford University that looked into the health benefits of organic foods.  It was covered by the New York Times, NPR, TV news programs and others.

Unfortunately many will not read past the often misleading headlines that suggest, or outright declare, that organic foods are not healthier for you than ‘conventional’ foods (meaning those foods grown with the use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, GMOs and – for livestock – with artificial growth hormones, antibiotics, etc.).  We believe that a careful reading of the study does confirm that for many foods there is a demonstrable health benefit in eating organic, either directly because the organic foods can be more nutritious, or indirectly by reducing one’s exposure to chemical residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  To learn more about this perspective on the study’s findings please check out this message from the Organic Trade Association, and their nutritional information page.

But today we think it’s even more important to remember that organic farming is about much more than just the amount of chemical residue on that apple you’re eating. It’s equally about protecting, and promoting, the health of…:

–        Farmers

–        Farm workers

–        Their families, nearby communities, and those living downstream

–        The soil

–        Ground water

–        Wildlife

–        Our fisheries

–        Our atmosphere

It is also about challenging an increasingly industrialized, homogenized, large-scale form of agriculture that seems to work only for large ag corporations (think of Monsanto, Cargill, ADM, ConAgra) and food conglomerates (Kraft, Nestle, etc), but not for farmers, workers or farming communities.

A broader look at ‘health’

In the U.S. alone over 1 billion of pounds of pesticides are applied annually. Globally over 5 billion pounds of pesticides are used every year. And much of it ends up not just on your food, but in the soil, streams, rivers, estuaries and bays. It also ends up on farmers and farm workers, and in their lungs, and so on. Every year there are about 1 million serious accidental pesticide poisonings world-wide.  A close look at the use of synthetic fertilizers also raises many important environmental problems, especially around climate change.

At Equal Exchange we’ve been working with farmers for 25 years and consequently think about conventional, chemical-intensive farming through this broader lens. And ever since we imported our first shipment of organic coffee (around 1990) we’ve been trying to maximize our support for organic farmers. Today about 98% of the coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar, bananas and other foods we import are certified organic (and even some of the remaining 2% are crops from not-yet-certified organic farms).

So – what have we learned that has made us so committed to organic farming? Let’s just say “a lot”. We could write a book on the virtues of organic farming (but others already have*) so for today we’ll just offer you this partial list:

Organic farming is:

–        Healthier for the planet, for farmers, farm workers, the families of both, for everyone who lives on, or near, or downstream from a farm

–      Helps improve soil quality

–        A great tool to combat climate change (aka “mitigation”)

–        A great tool for coping with climate change (“adaptation”)

–        Better for helping farmers cope with droughts

–        A tool to prevent the growth of “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake bay, & elsewhere

–       Offers better tasting food

We could go on, for example, about the many ways organic farming benefits wildlife, or it how strengthens the economy of farming communities, but we think you get the picture. Now I think I’ll end this post and go have some organic mac ‘n cheese.

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