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Some Insights Into The State of Fair Trade

On April 5, FTRN produced Webinar 108: The State of Fair Trade, an analysis of the Fair Trade Movement in North America.   The two panelists were Jeff Goldman, Executive Director of FTRN and Jonathan Rosenthal, Partner in Just Works Consulting and Co-Founder of Equal Exchange.  You can download the 55-min recording, or register for upcoming webinars, at FTRN webinars.

Jeff explained how Fair Trade has grown a lot in recent years, shown some positive impacts for producers, and entered a stage of corporate mainstreaming. Both panelists indicated that the North American Fair Trade Movement is a divided movement.  Based on a historical perspective, Jonathan Rosenthal identified two camps: Transformers and Reformers.  Transformers are the 100% Fair Trade, mission-driven organizations that laid the foundation for the Movement.  The Reformers are the Fair Trade Product Certifiers that “embraced the idea of reforming corporate capitalism.”  The title “Fair Trade” encompasses the work of both camps despite their differing theories on how to create change.

Bearing in mind these two competing theories of change, we can better understand some of the speakers’ main points from the webinar:

Jeff: “The Movement’s really craving more evidence to show “what are we gaining for all the effort we’re putting into Fair Trade?”

Jonathan: “Overall, none of us have managed to create an umbrella theory of how this [the work of Transformers and Reformers] all fits together and what does success look like.”

Question from Participant: “Can the Transformers and Reformers work side-by-side to further the cause of Fair Trade, even if they don’t agree on the methods and theories?”

Jonathan: “Yes, they can and are working side by side…what would be helpful to make it easier to work together is to clarify, from a systems perspective, where there is agreement, where there is mutual interest in things and where there’s disagreement and lack of mutual interest.”

Question: “[Regarding] the lack in the US of an umbrella organization for Fair Trade… is that because of the Transformer/Reformer divide or is it more a result of narrower institutional interests [of each Fair Trade organization/business]?”

Jeff: “It tends to be more the narrow institutional interests and a general lack of resources in most Fair Trade advocate organizations…and they can’t afford to invest in collaborating or the bigger picture.”

Jeff: “Whatever the differences are… there’s really not enough space to have substantial discussion… there just doesn’t seem to be enough collaboration, thought and dialogue to learn and make progress on these key issues that really threaten the viability of [the Fair Trade Movement].”

Jonathan: “Our collection of players suffers from the lack of time, space and money to get outside of day-to-day business…Carving out these small spaces, like the webinars and conferences, are really vital in getting more academics to be looking at these issues… Creating more layers to the dialogue is a critical step for moving forward in a more thoughtful way and not in simply a reactive way as many of us are forced to do just due to the lack of time.”

Access the full Webinar 108 recording.


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