US branch of Fair Trade goes it alone in move 'to relax standards'

Fair Trade USA splits from international group amid plans to water down product requirements

The leading American branch of the Fair Trade movement has cut its ties to its international parent body, sparking sharp criticism of its decision to relax the rules on which products will gain its stamp of approval.

The decision to lower the threshold for what constitutes a "Fair Trade" product has provoked a storm of disapproval within the movement, including from the very top of the umbrella organisation, Fairtrade International. And it has exposed a difficult debate within the movement about how best to achieve its goals.

"It's not something that we wanted to happen," Rob Cameron, chief executive of Fairtrade International, told The Independent yesterday. "We do regret it. They are their own organisation and they've taken a unilateral decision.

"I'm not compromising on our principles. Participation, democracy, collaboration are our key principles and I'm not sure that the leadership of Fair Trade USA shares that spirit."

Fair Trade USA, which will formally become independent from Fairtrade International at the end of this year, has proposed a number of changes, which include plans to reduce the threshold on its labelled products to as little as 10 per cent "fair trade" ingredients required, compared with the minimum of 20 per cent in other countries where the Fairtrade label is used. There are also plans to begin certifying coffee from large plantations, which are excluded from Fairtrade International's labelling in order to support small, independent producers.

They have also prompted accusations that the US organisation has changed its approach in order to bring in more revenue. But Paul Rice, chief executive of Fair Trade USA, has dismissed the criticism. He told the New York Times that the movement needed to change to help more farmers around the world.

"We're all debating what do we want fair trade to be as it grows up," he said. "Do we want it to be small and pure or do we want it to be fair trade for all? The more we grow volume, the more we can increase the impact" of fair trade, he said.

In 2010, companies paid Fairtrade International $6.7 million (£4.3m) in fees to pay the cost of auditing a company's production to make sure its Fair Trade claims are up to standard.

According to Mr Cameron, though, the organisation's decision has not proved popular within the US or among its suppliers.

"When Fair Trade USA made its decision, it did it completely unilaterally," he said. "It did not involve any of its stakeholders in the USA, and it certainly didn't involve any of the producer representatives who needless to say are somewhat disorientated and upset about the situation."

Critics say the move could water down fair trade standards in the USA, as companies will have an incentive to include only the minimum amount of Fair Trade ingredients in their products. There is a risk that small coffee producers could lose out to large plantations and that the change in labelling that the split will produce may confuse consumers.

Mr Cameron said he sees no prospect of any of the remaining 24 members of Fairtrade International leaving the body and insisted that "the issue of lowering standards is absolutely not on our agenda". The market is committed to higher Fair Trade standards, he added.

That view has been echoed in the UK movement. Barbara Crowther, of the British Fairtrade Foundation, said that companies will want to work with the system that has the highest level of public trust and recognition.

"Companies take a very considered approach," she said. "I'm not sure they will want to be seen to have adopted a lower standard."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Kellie Bright as Linda Carter and Danny Dyer as Mick Carter

EastEnders Christmas specials are known for their shouty, over-the-top soap drama but tonight the show has done itself proud thanks to Danny Dyer.

Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Sport
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy
tvCall the Midwife Christmas Special
Sport
Laura Trott and Jason Kenny are preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
tvLouis Smith wins with 'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there