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Suggest different measures that could create more consumer awareness of fair trade issues

The owner of a small farm near Matalgapa, Nicaragua, picks coffee left. Soon after I began my work for the organization, I held a series of workshops with members of its coffee supply chain and producer services team. Among the topics I covered were producer cooperatives, the coffee market, and knowledge management.

In these workshops, I often used a version of the Cultural Orientations Framework developed by the executive coaching expert Philippe Rosinski. Then I presented them with a comparable set of data that reflected the perspective of producing countries.

This list indicated the scale of Fair Trade exports to the US market in relation to the total production of each country. From one list to the other, the ranking of countries changed.

More important, the array of countries that appeared on the list changed. Costa Rica placed third 5 percent and Mexico placed fifth 2.

Which country, Peru or Nicaragua, benefited more from its fair trade relationship with the United States? What about Colombia, which had gone from second place to sixth-place also-ran status? Viewing the data from an import- or consumer-based perspective yields one result, and viewing that information from an export- or producer-based perspective yields a different result. Both perspectives are valid, but only by viewing them together can we arrive at a comprehensive perception of reality.

  1. Fair Trade USA, by contrast, represents an inside-the-market perspective.
  2. Both perspectives are valid, but only by viewing them together can we arrive at a comprehensive perception of reality.
  3. For many of us, at this point, the safe thing to do is to surround ourselves with those who think as we do, and then to go out and prove that our way is the right way. Not all consumers are the same.

That simple workshop exercise helps to illuminate what I have come to call the paradox of fair trade. The fair trade movement was founded to benefit small producers of coffee and other commodities—most of them located in developing countries of the Global South—by integrating them advantageously into a global export market.

Yet as the movement has evolved, it has come to place a considerable emphasis on tailoring its efforts to the needs and aspirations of consumers in the Global North. In theory, fair trade can flourish on the basis of a win-win relationship between producers and consumers. Late in 2011, two of the most important organizations in the fair trade movement— Fairtrade International Fairtrade and Fair Trade USA —announced that they would be going their separate ways.

That split marks a critical turning point in the history of fair trade, and people in the movement are still trying to make sense of it. My goal in this article is to explore how a conflict between two opposing worldviews—two cultural frameworks—led to this internal division within the fair trade community.

The Paradox of Fair Trade

I will also explore how engaging with the paradox of fair trade allows us to see the interconnectedness of those cultural frameworks.

In the end, I believe, the people of Fairtrade and Fair Trade USA can overcome their differences and achieve a real, transformative impact on the lives of producers and consumers alike. The Theory and Practice of Fair Trade In the early 1980s, Father Francisco Vanderhoff Boersma returned from the Oaxacan mountains in Mexico to his native Netherlands to talk with anyone who would listen about the inability of Mexican coffee producers to receive a price that would ensure them a dignified standard of living.

Father Boersma, cofounder of the fair trade movement, hardly imagined that 30 years later the movement would include 1. Since 2011, sales have increased by more than 16 percent. The idea of fair trade is simple. Ultimately, it involves a mutually beneficial exchange between two parties: Its purpose is to improve the living and working conditions of small farmers and workers, and it depends on solidarity with people who are willing to pay more for a product to ensure that their purchase has a positive impact on producers.

The goal is to empower producers and their organizations so that they can not only earn a fair price for their goods, but also take control of their businesses and reinvest in their communities.

In the late 1980s, leaders in the fair trade movement began launching country-specific Fair Trade labels. Then, in 1997, a number of organizations merged to form the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations Internationalwhich consolidated the global strategy of the movement and brought order to a crucial element of the Fair Trade system: The role of certification is to make sure that all stakeholders in each supply chain meet an established set of trade, labor, and environmental standards.

An independent certifier is responsible for checking compliance with these standards, and the Fair Trade label on a product guarantees to consumers that they have been met. From the beginning, the flagship Fair Trade product has been coffee, and coffee still represents the product with the highest sales volume.

But the list of Fair Trade goods has expanded to include other agricultural products: Although the consumption of Fair Trade products is increasing, they represent a small fraction of the overall market for coffee and other commodities.

An estimated 25 million small producers make up 70 percent of worldwide coffee production, but sales of Fair Trade coffee account for only 2 percent of total production. Those figures clearly indicate the challenge—as well as the opportunity—that lies ahead for Fair Trade organizations. The disagreement between the two groups stemmed from a long debate over whether to include large coffee plantations and non-organized small coffee producers in the Fair Trade system.

As a result, he believed, sales of Fair Trade products would increase, and the financial and social returns to all types of producers would increase as well. Rob Cameron, then CEO of Fairtrade, made that case in an open letter issued immediately following the split: Producers worldwide not only [are] valued for their opinion, but are co-owners in the Fairtrade system.

Access Check

Other models such as the plantation model and the production-by-contract model perpetuate dependence either on an employer or on intermediaries. The World Fair Trade Organizationa global network of Fair Trade organizations, emphasized the risk that Fair Trade would end up falling under the control of big multinational corporations: This is completely unacceptable to the WFTO. On the ground, all of us who had been part of the fair trade movement now found ourselves looking at each other differently.

We laughed to release tension, but our uneasiness was real. After working together for years, we had suddenly turned into adversaries. Getting Personal The night I first heard of fair trade, I could barely sleep. At that time, I was working at a bank. But I also found time to work as a social activist and as an informal educator of young people. For the next several years, I promoted the fair trade concept in churches and in schools, in social organizations and in government institutions.

Then I decided to meet with fair trade coffee producers firsthand. I wanted to see with my own eyes the impact that fair trade was having in the field. So in 1998 I grabbed my backpack and flew to Mexico. What was meant to be a two-year trip has become a calling that has occupied me for more than 15 years.

For my first field experience, I landed in the state of Chiapas. There I volunteered to work with one of the most successful cooperatives within the Fair Trade system—an organization that had sent the first shipping container with Fair Trade coffee ever to reach the UK market.

Since then, I have worked with organizations of small farmers to improve their production systems. I have assisted them in their organizational development, helped them build management capacities, and supported their efforts to obtain loans and seek new markets. I have witnessed how these organizations have leveraged the benefits of fair trade to become more competitive and to defend the interests of their members.

From 2006 to 2011, I worked for Root Capitalwhere I led an initiative aimed at improving access to credit for small rural businesses, the vast majority of which sell their products under a Fair Trade label.

I also served as an advisor for Setem on a project designed to help fair trade producer organizations gain access to the Spanish market. Over the years, the Fair Trade system has grown considerably.

  • Linked to this position is a commitment to standing outside the system—outside the market;
  • The World Fair Trade Organization , a global network of Fair Trade organizations, emphasized the risk that Fair Trade would end up falling under the control of big multinational corporations;
  • We laughed to release tension, but our uneasiness was real;
  • There is the outside-the-market perspective of Fairtrade, and there is the inside-the-market perspective of Fair Trade USA;
  • Even though they each regard producers and consumers in a different light, they agree that the essence of fair trade lies in engagement between those groups;
  • Those figures clearly indicate the challenge—as well as the opportunity—that lies ahead for Fair Trade organizations.

But the fair trade family remains relatively small. In some cases, feelings of resentment are very real.

In general, there is the sense of disappointment that often comes after a failure. For many of us, at this point, the safe thing to do is to surround ourselves with those who think as we do, and then to go out and prove that our way is the right way. Which means that our focus now is on competing with each other. By working to understand the cultural dynamics that have resulted in a conflict between two visions of the fair trade movement, we will be able to imagine options for the movement that take us beyond a purely competitive stance.

The fair trade movement takes certain things for granted. First, it assumes the pre-eminence of the current system of economic relationships. Second, it recognizes that some people participate in that system at a disadvantage.

  • This is completely unacceptable to the WFTO;
  • From the beginning, the flagship Fair Trade product has been coffee, and coffee still represents the product with the highest sales volume;
  • Unavoidably, we find ourselves using simplifications or stereotypes to guide us;
  • The challenge of cross-cultural communication is for people to recognize that they—just like those with a different outlook, a different sense of identity—are ensconced in their own cultural orientation;
  • First, it assumes the pre-eminence of the current system of economic relationships.

The question that stems from these premises is this: There are two ways to answer that question, and each way reflects a specific cultural orientation. One answer says that the current economic system is socially unjust, as well as inefficient in its distribution of resources, and that it depletes natural resources.

To people who hold this view, fair trade is a powerful way to highlight the contradictions of the current system.

Linked to this position is a commitment to standing outside the system—outside the market. From the perspective of this cultural orientation, the goal is to confront the market system with a more humane model.

Fair trade puts people before profits. The other answer says that the current economic system properly reflects a belief in free will: An individual who acts on self-interest will end up benefiting other actors within that system. Fair trade is thus one way that the system attends to the priorities of consumers.

People who subscribe to this position stand inside the system—inside the market. Their goal is to participate fully in the market. From the perspective of this cultural orientation, the first priority of fair trade is to expand the market for Fair Trade products as broadly as possible.

  • My goal in this article is to explore how a conflict between two opposing worldviews—two cultural frameworks—led to this internal division within the fair trade community;
  • Unavoidably, we find ourselves using simplifications or stereotypes to guide us;
  • That split marks a critical turning point in the history of fair trade, and people in the movement are still trying to make sense of it;
  • What if members of each group could recognize that they are only partially right?
  • People who subscribe to this position stand inside the system—inside the market.

When the fair trade movement split in 2011, it did so precisely along this fault line. Fairtrade represents an outside-the-market perspective. Its cultural orientation aligns with a European cultural framework, in which the principles of social democracy and the welfare state remain strong. Fair Trade USA, by contrast, represents an inside-the-market perspective. Its cultural orientation aligns with an Anglo-American cultural framework, in which the principles of individualism and competition tend to be dominant.

Unavoidably, we find ourselves using simplifications or stereotypes to guide us. Individual and cultural reality is, of course, much richer and more complex than the schematic overview that I have provided here. Still, a broad overview of this kind can be useful as a tool for analyzing different beliefs, motivations, and attitudes toward change.

What follows is a survey of comments that these two leaders have made in public forums over the past couple of years. How can we change the economy through changing people? Lamb argues that gauging the impact of fair trade is a more complex task than simply reading a sales-growth chart. At Fairtrade, the focus is on supporting frontline producers.

Nobody [else] is helping small holders build their businesses and become stronger exporters empowered within the value chain.