Paul Rice is a man on a mission.
The 51-year-old president and CEO of Fair Trade USA, who has led the group since 1998, says he wants the practice of Fair Trade to become bigger, engaging more consumers and helping more farmers around the world. To that end, Fair Trade USA last year quit the international Fairtrade Labelling Organizations, or FLO, an international federation of fair trade groups, to pursue a vision that Rice calls “Fair Trade for All.” He and his allies want to broaden the definition of Fair Trade, which when it comes to coffee now requires importers to buy from grower-owned co-operatives. The “Fair Trade for All” permits buying from collections of small farmers and even coffee estates, or plantations, that are deemed to be worker-friendly.
“Fair Trade can be more than a tiny market niche,” Rice says. “It can be scalable and significant.”
Bringing in plantations will make it easier for big coffee buyers like Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Starbucks and Whole Foods to buy more Fair Trade products–and that’s exactly the problem, his critics say.
Including bigger farms, they argue, will endanger the co-ops that are the heart and soul of the Fair Trade movement.
“Fair Trade is designed to change commerce,” says Rodney North of Equal Exchange, a cooperative that sells Fair Trade and organic coffee, tea, chocolate bars, cocoa, bananas and almonds. “We shouldn’t be changing Fair Trade to accommodate commerce.” [click to continue...]