Fair Trade USA (FTUSA) is redefining its business plan to expand the supply of fair trade certified goods produced on estates (particularly coffee). In addition to increased scale, FTUSA says that certifying goods from estates will “empower” farm workers on those estates through management compliance with fair trade standards. The draft FTUSA standard (Version 1.0 www.transfairusa.org/certification/standards ) is specific to “Farm Workers” but will also set a precedent for any other products produced with employees. And it will have implications on fair trade certification of other parts of a product’s production or supply chain beyond the source farm or factory. Our vision of fair trade is a sustainable food supply chain where all workers have fair treatment and access to their labor rights.
FTUSA’s new approach makes the fair treatment of employees (in addition to small growers/cooperative producers) the core consideration to determine whether a FTUSA certified product is fairly produced. There are already some FLO certified goods from ‘for hire’ situations like bananas, cut-flowers and tea. Coffee is 70% of the fair trade market in the US. The implications of this “worker empowerment” goal are far reaching and call for careful analysis of FTUSA’s new labor standards, monitoring mechanisms and governance structures. This change has important implications for fair trade consumers in the USA, workers in producer countries and workers along the food supply chain.
FTUSA and FLO’s current fair-trade certifications apply to the primary producer, be it plantation or small holder, but from the Teamster perspective; a union representing workers in transport, warehousing, food processing and retail sales, we have raised with FLO and now raise with FTUSA that companies transporting, processing, warehousing and selling fair trade label products also have a responsibility to fair trade consumers to apply fair trade principles in their enterprises. We are aware of several cases where chocolate (i.e. Theo Chocolate) and coffee companies are anti-union but still sell their goods with a fair-trade label. An initial step in this direction would be transparency in reporting on the entire supply chain; from field to retail sale.
Fair Trade and Labor
The labor movement and fair trade consumers are allies in the struggle for social justice. We share core beliefs in the dignity of work, human rights, democracy, solidarity, ending poverty, and equitable and sustainable development. We also share the concerns of fair trade consumers that an increasing number of certification schemes (i.e. Rainforest Alliance, UTZ) are created by corporations who do not share our core beliefs and whose labels are motivated by capturing the fair trade premium, not to improve the livelihoods of folks along production chains.
We in labor are very grateful for the solidarity of the anti-sweatshop movement in the global garment industry. On campuses, in churches, in local government and at the retail store, consumers have told major labels that they don’t want to buy goods at the cost of labor rights. There are growing signs that this movement has reached a tipping point; that many major brands may seek to ensure union representation and fair treatment at their garment factories around the world. Is this an opportunity for a coalition of labor and fair trade/organic/kosher/halal/vegan consumers to do the same thing in the food industry?
A Trade Union is the Path to Worker Empowerment
FTUSA’s new emphasis invites business partners who are motivated by profit maximization an opportunity to make adjustments that will provide access to the growing fair trade consumer market. That market is made up of consumers who are willing to pay a premium if the product reliably reflects their social justice values. FTUSA must set high standards, iron clad monitoring and enforcement mechanisms and insulate itself from the inevitable pressures on the FTUSA governance structures to weaken standards from the new business partners. The business partners FTUSA seeks to engage now will undoubtedly remain true to their profit maximization goal. Thus, if an opportunity presents itself to cut corners while keeping prices high, they will cut the corner. FTUSA needs to establish a bulwark against these pressures.