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Some Insights Into What FTUSA Leaving FLO Means for Producers & the Movement – According to a FLO Leader

On December 16, FTRN produced Webinar 119: A Community Discussion of What FTUSA Leaving FLO Means for Producers and the Movement-Part 3 with a FLO Leader.  The panelist was John Kay, Chair of Fairtrade Canada and FLO Board Member, and moderator was Jeff Goldman, Executive Director of Fair Trade Resource Network. Part 4 with both FTUSA and FLO or other stakeholders, is expected in coming weeks. You can download the 50-min recording of webinar 119, or register for upcoming webinars, at FTRN webinars.

Some of the speakers’ main points from the webinar include comments below.


In September 2011, FTUSA unilaterally decided to resign its membership of the Fairtrade International (FLO) system. The main point of contention was a difference of opinion about whether to include hired labor plantations in Fairtrade, particularly for coffee.

FLO wishes to bring FTUSA back into the FLO system, so FLO is keeping communication open with FTUSA. However, FLO needs to move forward to protect the interests of producers and licensees, and maintain the benefits we have achieved for farmers and workers selling into/through the Fairtrade market in the US. Fairtrade Canada will handle interim US operations while conducting widespread consultation with US stakeholders. Such consultations will determine whether a new US labeling initiative, or just the Fairtrade Canada office, will work in the US market in the long term.

Key findings from US stakeholder consultation since the split:

“I would like to see more communication and interaction between Fairtrade and its stakeholders…”

‘Producers first’ mentality: “Knowledge that we are assisting the farmers not the middlemen”

“While what’s happened is disruptive and disturbing, it could make FT in the US better…”

“FLO needs to raise the bar, and the US needs a new organization to safeguard the international mark and focus on building true grass roots support…”

FLO has been engaging with US companies, but has not been actively poaching business partners from FTUSA. I can’t say yet whether any large companies have switched to FLO, but discussions are under way.

FLO is adding resources to Fairtrade Canada to help serve willing US business partners. Stakeholders have urged FLO to adequately support FLO’s Fairtrade mark if the label is to be used in the US market.

FLO has been conducting a consultation process with international trade unions and other labor interests, likely to result in changes, about how hired labor participates, and has greater voice, in FLO’s system. I can’t say whether FLO would reduce hired labor participation in FLO. My guess, which is only a guess by me, is that FLO will preserve the status quo, and will neither expand nor contract hired labor participation in Fairtrade.

I wouldn’t say there are concrete discussions underway to collaborate with other international certification schemes, but there are opportunities to partner more. FLO seeks to present one global system, with one global mark, under a unified message. Transparency will absolutely characterize FLO’s process for consultation and decisions about its direction.

I don’t know if FLO has a policy to receive, or not, money and donations from companies that it audits/monitors, as FTUSA does earn donations and licensing fees from its business partners. Fairtrade Canada believes that if labeling initiatives get ISO 65 certification, that would reduce enough the conflict of interest. Fairtrade Canada only earns licensing fees, and does not receive donations or grants from companies or donor organizations.

FLO is organizing a meeting in New York for key stakeholders in January to take US consultations to the next phase. Pending approval from FLO, the public can expect by December 23 electronic publication and website posting of who has been consulted thus far in the US.

All 3 producer networks have publically stated their strong views, and concerns, about FTUSA’s decision to split. All 3 remain absolutely committed to the FLO system, and now want strong support for FLO system and better understanding of how to increase practical impacts for producers. Producers now want to focus on how to increase market access & sales of certified products, and how to manage growth (should system seek greater volume, working with large companies, or other approaches?).

If FTUSA competes with FLO by offering laxer standards and cheaper fees to US business partners, those partners will simply have to choose what serves them best. FLO doesn’t plan to disparage what FTUSA or other certifiers are doing. I expect FLO to keep fees the same as FTUSA’s, and to make them transparent and public.


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