Kerstin Lindgren is the newest Campaign Coordinator for the Fair World Project (FWP), a campaign of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). Kerstin came from the Domestic Fair Trade Association (DFTA) where she was the Executive Director of the DFTA for the last four years. The DFTA is a collaboration of organizations representing farmers, farmworkers, food system workers, retailers, manufacturers, processors, and non-governmental organizations.
Ethix: Coming from the domestic fair trade movement (DFTA), what do you hope to add to internationally-focused Fair World Project?
Kerstin Lindgren: I first met with Fair World Project soon after they launched when I was with Domestic Fair Trade Association. Representatives from both DFTA and FWP sat down for a meal together at a restaurant identified by Restaurant Opportunities Center as a “high road” restaurant upholding workers rights and paying decent wages. I remember having an interesting conversation about how all the pieces of the supply chain fit together (corresponding roughly with what Fair World Project has more recently visualized as the Just Economy). The job quality of workers is essential, but what of the coffee, is it fair trade so that we know producers were paid a good price? What of the food, was it grown in a safe and healthy way by farmers and growers who were assured living wages and safe conditions? Many similarly important conversations have followed and I have always felt that FWP was supportive of domestic farm and labor issues.
I personally came to the domestic fair trade movement not through the traditional fair trade movement, but from a point of being concerned by justice issues in our domestic food and agriculture system. As I have now transitioned to working with Fair World Project, I am reminded of how big the world is and how interrelated. We cannot address any of these issues in isolation. Nor are they are as separate as we would sometimes like to believe. My past involvement with developing criteria for evaluating social justice programs has been a nice transition to the work FWP is doing. My background in domestic and food issues is a good counterbalance to the heavy involvement in international food and craft fair trade. But what I most hope I carry with me from my time working with DFTA is the optimism that justice can be achieved in our time and that we can produce and trade food, fiber, and other agriculturally based goods in a way that is fair and healthy to all.
Ethix: What campaigns are you most passionate to invest in (or launch) at FWP?
Kerstin Lindgren: More than a single campaign, I am excited to be part of an organization that has a hand in so many diverse campaigns. Because much of my work with DFTA related to marketplace claims of fairness and justice, I have been excited to jump into the work FWP is doing in that area, unpacking in detail fair trade labels. But am equally passionate about finding ways for consumers to become informed and engaged at any level. I’m also excited to launch a new blog series in 2013 considering coffee for its taste attributes and ethics.
Ethix: Which types of persuasion have been successfully applied to companies to encourage them to adopt fair trade in their supply chains?
Kerstin Lindgren: It depends on the company. It’s sometimes easy to forget that there are companies that adopt fair trade principles simply because it is the right thing to do. For others, seeing that fair trade boosts their sales or appeals to new demographics because it is something consumers want is persuasion enough. I think as a movement we need to do a better job at showing that it is possible to be both ethical and profitable, as some researchers and advocates have started to do and businesses have started to model. In terms of other tactics, for companies that are faced with the threat of loss of markets, the chosen alternative is rarely a true fair trade. Hershey’s, for example, announced last fall that they will eventually source only “certified” cocoa after Whole Foods discontinued their products. Nowhere have they specified this will be certified fair trade, nor have they made commitments to ethically source other ingredients, treat workers well, or make any other moves toward being a fully fair trade company. We can and should apply any and all tactics to push companies like this toward better supply chains, but it is generally the more visionary companies that can see effects that benefit the company as well as people and the environment (for example safe and secure supply chains and lower worker turnover) that adopt fair trade principles and supply chains.
Ethix: What hopes (or concerns) do you have for the future of Fair Trade?
Kerstin Lindgren: I am hopeful about the future of fair trade. I have met so many amazing and dedicated people working in this movement that I know great things will come. There is some uncertainty and change in the movement right now, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I have seen signs that the core of the fair trade movement is heading in a more holistic direction where farmers and artisans are central, but businesses strive to take responsibility for their own practices, workers along the supply chain matter, and fair trade principles are more important than a fair trade label. I think this is an exciting direction and I hope the movement continues to work together to evolve while maintaining its core values, while clarifying the role we hope to play in the bigger picture of social change.
Ethix: And, on a personal note, which fair trade certification label do you look for when shopping? Why do you seek out and support this certifier over others?
Kerstin Lindgren: I like the idea of labels that look at a company’s full practices and do not allow a single product line to be certified even though the company is otherwise a known bad actor. I think this is what IMO Fair for Life’s program and Agricultural Justice Project’s Food Justice Certified program are trying to achieve. At the same time, I know that companies choose different labels for different reasons, or choose to forgo certification completely. Like many consumers, I consider the brand or farm and any certifications in combination.
We look forward to your thoughts. You can also download the entire interview here.