Q&A with Fair Trade USA

Can you tell us about some of the changes occurring in Fair Trade Certified coffee?
According to the World Bank, more than two billion people live on less than two dollars a day. Today’s Fair Trade model reaches only a small percentage of them. Fair Trade can and must do more.
That is why we are building on the momentum of the past 12 years to bring greater impact to farming communities around the world. Our new vision, aimed at doubling the impact of Fair Trade by 2015, will:

  • Strengthen farming communities by investing in cooperatives and partnering with others to provide more impact
  • Innovate the Fair Trade model to include more people in more communities around the world
  • Ignite consumer involvement to increase awareness and sales in order to grow the Fair Trade movement

Today Fair Trade principles are applied somewhat inconsistently. In some product categories, like coffee, cocoa and sugar, Fair Trade certification has been limited to cooperatives. In other categories, like bananas, tea and flowers, farm workers on large farms can also receive Fair Trade benefits.
To eliminate these inconsistencies Fair trade USA is adapting existing standards and applying them to independent smallholders and farm workers on large farms, beginning in coffee.
This more inclusive model brings the benefits of Fair Trade to far more farmers and workers; enables more businesses to develop reliable and ethical supply chains; allows more retailers to offer more Fair Trade Certified products; and gives consumers a broader selection of high quality Fair Trade Certified products from which to choose.
Is Fair Trade concerned about quality, and if so, how?
Fair Trade is absolutely concerned about product quality, from the farm to the cup. While Fair Trade USA does not certify against quality, we do support investment in quality. It is a win-win situation– higher quality means higher prices and greater impact for farmers, and a better product for consumers.
In addition to the minimum or market price, Fair Trade requires that buyers pay community development premiums. Farmers democratically decide how to spend these premiums – historically about 50% of premium dollars have been used on projects that improve lives – things like education, healthcare, housing – and about 50% have been used for projects that enable more environmentally sustainable farming practices and higher quality product. In coffee, we have gone one step further: of the twenty-cent per pound community development premium, five cents must go directly to quality initiatives.
Fair Trade USA has also partnered with key international research groups, NGO’s and industry partners to enhance coffee quality. For example, Fair Trade USA is currently working with the Global Coffee Quality Research Initiative (GCQRI), a collaborative research program of the specialty coffee industry, to help all members of the Fair Trade coffee supply chain improve quality and yields in the face of climate change.
How does Fair trade USA engage coffee drinking consumers and grow consumer awareness?
Not only does Fair Trade USA support the work of individual brands and companies to increase awareness and drive sales of Fair Trade Certified coffees, we are also able to step outside these individual brand efforts to grow the Fair Trade movement as a whole. Some of these national efforts include programs like: Fair Trade Towns and Universities, Fair Trade Month (every October), and various marketing, public relations and online digital media programs throughout the year that engage consumers on a much larger scale.
Why does Fair Trade USA work with large companies?
Fair Trade USA certifies and promotes Fair Trade products, with the aim of alleviating poverty through trade.
While the majority of Fair Trade USA’s coffee partners are small to medium size roasters, it’s our philosophy that any company of any size should be able to embrace Fair Trade and commit to sustainable sourcing. Any commitment to Fair Trade is an important one, which is why we support both large and small brands in buying and selling Fair Trade Certified coffee. When there are more Fair Trade products on store shelves, more consumers are able to choose Fair Trade and that means more impact back to farmers.
What do Fair Trade USA’s service fees go to?
Fair Trade USA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to alleviating poverty through trade. In addition to market linkage, we offer a comprehensive range of services to support the sourcing of Fair Trade Certified goods, provide credible verification of responsible sourcing practices, and empower farmers and workers around the world to earn a fair price and improve their communities.
Specifically, Fair Trade USA’s service fees go to:
Developing the supply of high-quality, Fair Trade Certified coffee
Market access and supply chain stability are core objectives of Fair Trade. We constantly recruit, train and certify new producer groups, expanding benefits to more farming communities each year. Additionally, importers and roasters frequently enlist our support to help them identify and partner with high-quality Fair Trade farms. We also partner with leading NGO’s and industry groups to help strengthen existing Fair Trade cooperatives.
Standards & Certification
Fair Trade USA sets rigorous social and environmental standards, certifies farms against those standards, and conducts regular audits to ensure long term compliance. Fair Trade USA also audits thousands of business transactions each year to ensure the integrity of every product bearing the Fair Trade Certified label.
Building the Fair Trade Movement and driving consumer awareness and demand
Without a sale, Fair Trade can provide no impact back to farmers. Fair Trade USA invests in growing consumer awareness to drive demand and benefit far more farmers and workers around the world.
Measure & Report Impact
Fair Trade USA works with farmer organizations around the world to capture and summarize the impact that results from participation in Fair Trade. Fair Trade USA shares this information through detailed impact reports and impact stories that help connect consumers with the people behind the products.
It is also important to note that in 2011 Fair Trade USA reduced service fees for coffee roasters across the board. Now, there are zero fees on the first 20,000 pounds of Fair Trade Certified coffee purchased, and all fees beyond 20,000 pounds have been reduced as well.

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