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Domestic Fair Trade Movement

By Michele Hatton

Until now, fair trade has been associated with small farmer co-operatives operating in marginalized countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. These countries produce the fair trade items with which we are all familiar—coffee, tea, and chocolate. Imagine however, a future where fair trade items are produced not in Peru, but in Saskatchewan or California, where crops are not coffee or cocoa, but lentils, peas and grains. Imagine if the standards that govern certification for this domestic fair trade were comprised of more than just fair trading guidelines—that they encompassed organic production, equity in the workplace and required companies to be committed to social and environmental change. Well, welcome to the “domestic” fair trade movement!

Fair trade has grown exponentially in recent years. “More than 1.2 million producers and workers in 58 developing countries now benefit from global Fairtrade sales,” reports FairTrade International. “In the last four years global sales have more than tripled and hundreds more producer organizations have become certified.” But what about trading fairly with small farmers right here on North American soil?

Small family farms in the USA and Canada are not so unlike their southern hemisphere counterparts. They, too, are vulnerable to climate change, market consolidation, and declining prices. They, too, are increasingly squeezed by the top ten corporations that “generate over 50 percent of the global revenue for food retailing,” as reported on Equal Exchange website. Couldn’t they benefit from fair trade?

A group of passionate fair trade leaders are in hot debate right now to define fair trade for North America. Led by the Fair Trade Association, the workgroup is comprised of reps from Equal Exchange, Dr. Bronner’s, the Institute for Marketecology (the new certifiers for Equal Exchange!), and a farmers collective in Canada. The Agricultural Justice Project is in place and ready to certify our domestic farm co-operatives, and a “domestic fair trade association” has been founded (see: www.thedfta.org). Together, these people are amassing standards for domestic fair trade—and aiming high.

So, what are standards of high bar? Take a peek at the Farmer Direct Cooperative (FDC), a farmer-owned business of 70 certified organic family farms in Saskatchewan, Canada. They are the first co-operative farm group in North America to receive the domestic fair trade seal, “fairDeal.” The fairDeal seal isn’t easy to get, “you must be certified organic, and you must be certified fair trade and pay equity,” says Marla Carlson, Program Manager for FDC. (Pay equity is an assurance that the ratio between the highest and the lowest paid employee is not too large—1:4 is good).

The domestic working group is shooting for high standards—perhaps as high as fairDeals. Fair trade standards have been “loosened here and there,” claims Rodney North, Media Director for Equal Exchange. “Fair trade certification is about that product, not the company behind it.” The working group however, is aiming for a more “radical model,” one that changes the very foundation of the way we do business. North America is ready for this.

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