Domestic Fair Trade Association Launched

November 30, 2007: more than 50 people met in La Farge, Wisconsin, to participate in the founding meeting of the Domestic Fair Trade Association (DFTA). This historic meeting, hosted by Organic Valley, was the result of several years of planning by the Domestic Fair Trade working group, a small group of stakeholders who developed the draft principles of Domestic Fair Trade and spawned the Local Fair Trade Network pilot project in the Midwest this past summer. (See CG #127. November-December 2006.)

The working group included representatives from Equal Exchange Cooperative, Organic Valley/CROPP Cooperative, Rural Advancement Fund International (RAFI), and Farmer Direct Cooperative. Also playing key roles in laying the groundwork for the Domestic Fair Trade Association were the Farmworker Support Committee (CATA: Comité de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas), Centro Campesino, Peaceworks Farm, Northeast Organic Farming Association, and Florida Organic Grocers/Quality Certification Services. Accompanying this article is the 14-point listing of Principles of Fair Trade that has been adopted by the association.

The mission of the Domestic Fair Trade Association is to educate the public, to promote Domestic Fair Trade Principles, to endorse Domestic Fair Trade and social justice claims and labels, and to defend endorsed labels in the marketplace. The DFTA is not a certifier and does not aspire to own a particular label. Instead, the DFTA will provide an umbrella organization under which regional fair trade labels can flourish by vetting independent labels according to the articulated principles.

Membership in the Domestic Fair Trade Association is open to mission-based organizations in each of the following five stakeholder categories:

  • Farmers and Farmer Cooperatives. Family and small-scale farmers and democratic farmers’ cooperatives that serve and represent them.
  • Farm Workers’ Organizations. Organizations representing agricultural workers, and particularly those with an agrarian vision that includes farm labor and small producers.
  • Food Processing and Marketing Enterprises. Food processors and marketers with a mission of promoting fair trade, sustainable agriculture, and social justice.
  • Food Retailers and Consumer Co-ops. Retailers with a mission of supporting family farming, sustainable agriculture, and connecting small producers with consumers, and make such activities a significant part of their business
  • Civil Society Organizations and NGOs. Community-based organizations that advocate for Fair Trade, sustainable agriculture, social justice, and conscientious consumption in the food system.

In the process of applying for membership in the DFTA, all potential members were asked to assess their organizational performance on each of the 14 principles. Organizations were also asked to identify goals for improvement in particular areas. This commitment to constant improvement in fair trade practices sets the DFTA apart from many social justice efforts.

Commitment to stakeholder representation is another important value for the DFTA. Last May, founding member organizations Centro Campesino in Owatonna, Minnesota, and the Local Fair Trade Network in Minneapolis hosted a conference of farmworker organizations in Owatonna to discuss farmworker labor standards for domestic fair trade food products in the United States. The conference was attended by members of Farmworker Support Committee (CATA, its acronym in Spanish), The Farmworker Association of Florida, the Farmworker Pesticide Project and Community to Community, both from Washington state. Also present were the California Rural Legal Foundation, Pesticide Action Network North America, the International Labor Rights Fund, and the Department of Chicano Studies from the University of Minnesota.

Conference participants consented on three priorities for farmworkers in domestic fair trade:

  1. Farmworkers must have, as much as farmers and consumers, equal representation, voice, and participation in the development process of a fair trade seal;
  2. Just salaries for farmworkers;
  3. The right of farmworkers to organize without the fear of retaliation.

In addition, healthy and safe working conditions as well as safe housing were high on the list to be included in the ongoing development of a domestic fair trade seal.

Pilot Project: Local Fair Trade Network

Domestic Fair Trade Principles got their first test in the summer of 2007 when the Local Fair Trade Network and the Agricultural Justice Project introduced the first domestic fair trade label in the Upper Midwest. The project certified four farms: Featherstone Fruits and Vegetables in Rushford, Minn.; Riverbend Farm in Delano, Minn.; Keewaydin Farms and Avalanche Organics, both in Viola, Wis. Two NCGA member co-ops, Bluff Country Co-op in Winona, Minn., and Seward Co-op in Minneapolis provided the retail testing ground. The project was well-received by consumers, demonstrated the strengths of domestic fair trade labeling, and helped to identify challenges yet to be resolved. DFTA members plan to create more regional pilot projects in the near future to continue building the movement for justice in the food system.

Co-ops and Fair Trade

Erbin Crowell, formerly of Equal Exchange Cooperative and currently of the Cooperative Development Institute, makes the case for retail co-op involvement in domestic fair trade in a brochure entitled “Building Cooperative Fair Trade in Our Region and Beyond” (for a copy, email [email protected]):

“Some of the first Fair Trade Organizations began in the 1940s and 1950s as ‘Alternative’ Trade Organizations (ATOs). Their goal was to give artisans in the developing world the opportunity to sell their products with dignity. By connecting these producers more directly with ethical consumers, these ATOs helped these craftspeople gain more control over the market and their own economic and social development.

“As the movement has grown, Fair Trade has impacted the mainstream business world by setting an example for how commerce can be a tool for positive social change and the empowerment of people in marginalized countries. Since the late 1990s, certification of fairly traded products through organizations such as TransFair USA has helped consumers influence the behavior of conventional corporations and even large multinationals.

“But the Fair Trade movement also has roots that reach even further back in history. The International Fair Trade Association, for example, points out that ‘some people say that alternative trade began…towards the end of the 19th century with the development of the cooperative movement which tried, and still tries, to build an integrated cooperative economy right the way through from production to retail outlet.’

“As defined by the International Cooperative Alliance, a co-op is ‘an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.’ And the Principles of Fair Trade and of the cooperative movement have much in common. Both seek to empower producers, workers and consumers in their economic lives. Both seek to make trade serve the needs of people and their communities, rather than the other way around. As the International Cooperative Alliance and the International Labor Organization have noted, ‘the principles of Fair Trade are quite compatible with the principles of cooperatives. For both the ultimate goal is to improve the living conditions of workers.’

“These commonalities help explain why cooperatives have been so involved in Fair Trade. Co-ops have been early promoters of the movement, as well as key participants and innovators in its development. Small farmer co-ops are the source of familiar fairly traded food products such as coffee, cocoa and sugar; worker co-ops are among the most successful marketers and distributors of these products; and food co-ops have been among the earliest and most committed retailers. Through “Cooperative” Fair Trade, co-ops have been able to build an international economic chain that is owned and controlled by the people who grow, process, market, distribute and consume the products that we eat every day.”

Principles of Fair Trade

  • Family Farming Fair Trade focuses on reinforcing the position of small and family-scale producers that have been or are being marginalized by the mainstream marketplace as a means of preserving the culture of farming and rural communities, promoting economic democracy, environmental and humane stewardship and biodiversity, and ensuring a more healthy and sustainable planet.
  • Capacity Building for Producers and Workers Fair Trade is a means of developing the producers’ and workers’ independence, strengthening their ability to engage directly with the marketplace, and to gain more control over their futures. The resources from trading relationships are directed toward this purpose in a participatory manner by those who will benefit from them.
  • Democratic, Participatory Ownership & Control Fair Trade emphasizes co-operative organization as a means of empowering producers, workers and consumers to gain more control over their economic and social lives. In situations where such organization is absent, mechanisms will be created to ensure the democratic participation of producers and workers, and the equitable distribution of the fruits of trade.
  • Rights of Labor Fair Trade means a safe and healthy working environment for producers and workers and conforms to all International Labor Organizations (ILO) Conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The participation of children (if any) does not adversely affect their well-being, security, educational requirements and need for play, and conforms to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as pertinent local/regional laws. Fair Trade ensures that there are mechanisms in place through which hired labor has an independent voice and is included in the benefits of trade through mechanisms such as living wages, profit-sharing, and cooperative workplace structures. Programs of apprenticeship are promoted to develop the skills of the next generation of farmers, artisans and workers.
  • Equality and Opportunity Fair Trade emphasizes the empowerment of women, minorities, indigenous peoples and other marginalized members of society to represent their own interests, participate directly in trade and to share in its economic benefits.
  • Direct Trade Where possible, Fair Trade attempts to reduce the intermediaries between the primary producer and the consumer, delivering more of the benefits of such trade to the producer and connecting consumers more directly with the source of their food and other products, and with the people who produced them.
  • Fair and Stable Pricing A fair price is one that has been agreed upon through dialogue and participation. It covers not only the costs of production but enables production that is socially just and environmentally sound. It provides fair pay to the producers, fair wages to laborers, and takes into account the principle of equal pay for equal work by women and men. Fair Traders ensure prompt payment and stable pricing that enables producers to plan for the future.
  • Shared Risk and Affordable Credit Farmers often bear the greatest risks of agriculture and an unstable marketplace. Fair Traders work to share these risks among producers, processors, marketers and consumers through more equitable trade partnerships, fair and prompt payment, transparent relationships and affordable credit. In situations where access to credit is difficult, or the terms of credit are not beneficial to producers, Fair Traders provide or facilitate access to such credit, or assist producers in creating their own mechanisms for providing credit.
  • Long-Term Trade Partnerships Fair Trade fosters long-term trade partnerships at all levels within the production, processing and marketing chain that provide producers with stability and opportunities to develop marketing, production and quality skills, as well as access to new markets for their products.
  • Sustainable Agriculture Fair Trade emphasizes a holistic approach to agriculture, supporting sustainable agricultural strategies such as Organic, Biodynamic, nontoxic Biointensive Integrated Pest Management, farm diversification and small-scale farming that protect the environment, sustain farming communities, and provide consumers with quality, healthy food. Fair Trade emphasizes the biodiversity of traditional agriculture, supports the rights of farmers to their own seed, and preserves cultural diversity.
  • Appropriate Technology Fair Trade supports the use of traditional technologies, which are openly and freely shared in the public domain, and excludes plants and animals, and biological processes, which have been genetically engineered or modified.
  • Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Fair Trade supports indigenous peoples’ rights to land for cultivation, to freely exchange seeds and to retain rights to their germplasm. These rights are congruent with the Convention on Biological Diversity. We fully support the right of all peoples to food sovereignty.
  • Transparency and Accountability The Fair Trade system depends on transparency of costs, pricing and structures at all levels of the trading system. Fair Traders are accountable to each other and the wider community by openly sharing such information.
  • Education and Advocacy Fair Trade emphasizes education at all levels of the agricultural chain, engaging farmers, workers, traders and consumers in advocating for a more equitable, democratic and sustainable economy. Fair Traders in particular educate consumers about the inequities of the trading system and the need for alternatives, while sharing information with producers about the marketplace. Education strengthens the Fair Trade movement and empowers its stakeholders in creating a better world for everyone.
See other articles from this issue: #135 March - April - 2008