Fair Trade certification

What is Fair Trade coffee?

Fair Trade International logoFairtrade International is an association of fair trade organizations in countries around the world that certify that a variety of products, from coffee to tea to cotton and other goods, have been produced in accordance with Fairtrade standards. At right is the international association's logo.

Fair Trade USA logoIn the United States, the situation became a little more complicated over the past decade. Fair Trade USA, a member of Fairtrade International, began certifying coffee in 1998 and later branched out to include other products. It uses the logo at right (redesigned in 2012) to identify certified products.

However, on September 15, 2011, Fair Trade USA announced its resignation from Fair Trade International, the international association of fair trade organizations (the Fairtrade International logo is shown at right). The resignation took effect on December 31, 2011, and Fair Trade USA embarked on a different course from the rest of the world's fair trade organizations.

Fair Trade America logoNot surprisingly, the split was controversial. One response was the formation of Fairtrade America, a new organization that affiliated with Fairtrade International and continued certifying products according to the international association's standards. Fairtrade America is a smaller organization but it provides a home for brands who want to remain a part of the international fair trade structure. Products certified by Fairtrade America use the Fairtrade International logo shown above.

Back when Fair Trade USA decided to split from the international organization, there were some lively discussions about the move. Unfortunately, most of those arguments have since been removed from the web sites of the non-profit organizations and the companies that posted them. At the time, Fair Trade USA defended the move as part of its Fair Trade for All initiative that aimed to expand the scope of fair trade products. Critics warned that Fair Trade USA planned to do that by allowing coffee produced on large estates and plantations and harvested by transient workers to gain the certification, instead of maintaining a focus on small-grower cooperatives that qualify under the international system. Opponents of the change saw it as a dilution of the Fair Trade standard. The formation of Fairtrade America was one result of this disagreement, giving companies an option to seek certification that was still in harmony with the international standards.

In part, the debate represents a philosophical divide between those who believe higher standards are important and those who believe broader participation (i.e., including more producers) is ultimately more beneficial.

More information can be found at the three organizations' web sites below.

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