It was a dark and stormy night…
I’ve been having recurring nightmares about Fair Trade USA.
In the last year the bad dreams keep getting scarier and scarier.
And…the nightmares are actually true.
October 2011: The Spookiest Fair Trade Month
- First, there is the apparel pilot project. Fair Trade USA created a “Fair Trade” clothing label that doesn’t include a living wage and independent worker representation like unions. They said it was too hard to do, but then Alta Gracia has actually done it….
- Second, Fair Trade USA faced a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission for their minimum ingredient standards and unclear labeling. They certified products with as little as 2% fair trade ingredients. If that’s not “fair-washing,” can someone tell me what is?
- Third came the name-change to from “Transfair USA” to “Fair Trade USA,” a name that seems to suggest that a single group has ownership over a vast and diverse fair trade movement in the U.S. When the change was announced, over 10,000 fair trade movement leaders signed letters asking them to stop.
- Fourth, after moving forward with the name change, Fair Trade USA decided they also don’t need to be a part of THE international fairtrade group. Fairtrade International (FLO), the central hub for fair trade certifying groups, expressed disappointment with the split. But Fair Trade USA wants to pursue their own “Fair Trade for All” agenda.
- Fifth, (this is actually a little bonus I just learned reading this awesome Fair World Project article), Fair Trade USA failed to adhere to FLO standards when they were a member group. As reported by Fair World Project, literally, “dozens of products in the marketplace, ranging from Honest Tea to Sunspire Organic Cocoa Chips, have failed to source fair trade ingredients, yet continue to display the FTUSA fair trade seal.” Did I just hear about more fairwashing?
Waking Up to What We Want
Fair Trade USA’s philosophy prioritizes quantity over quality. That’s why their “Fair Trade for All” campaign includes certifying large plantations instead of just small farmer cooperatives.
Many in the broader fair trade movement are expressing their desires for quality change and true empowerment. For example, at Ethix we will continue to push the union bug and union label as the platinum standards for custom apparel.
We are working hard to provide the most honest ethical answers about T-shirts, avoiding fair-washing by never promising anything is perfect. Everything we buy has an impact!
That’s the direction we’re moving. But what do you think- should we be striving toward quantity or quality?
Update, November 3, 2011:
The activist group United Students for Fair Trade (USFT) released a statement withdrawing support from Fair Trade USA/Transfair and calling for reform to fair trade standards. View the pdf now for the full story.
Three producer networks that co-own Fairtrade International, (Network of Asian Producers, Coordinadora Latino Americana y del Caribe de Pequeños Productores de Comercio Justo, and Fairtrade Africa), also released a statement of disappointment about Fair Trade USA’s actions. You can view their pdf statement here.
Corporations Occupy Fair Trade is another critique tied into current international events.
Excellent commentary in the discussion of this article: Fair Trade Lite: Fair Trade USA Moves Away from Worker Coops.
We recommend checking USFT and other sites for more frequently updated fair trade blogs and continuing thoughts on this issue: