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Fair Trade USA certifier severely dilutes standards to include non-fair trade products

Friday, December 09, 2011 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: Fair Trade, standards, food

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(NaturalNews) Concerned about the horrific working conditions and measly wages that many of the world's poorest must deal with every single day, many consumers are now opting for "fair trade" products that, while slightly more expensive at times, come from farms and factories that operate ethically and honestly. But one of the prominent fair trade certifiers in the US, Fair Trade USA, has decided to compromise its standards and begin accepting products that are not technically fair trade, at least not by international standards.

Much like the certified organic label, the fair trade label has come to be recognized as a symbol of quality, integrity and sustainability. Unlike many conventional products, fair trade products are meant to embody non-exploitative trade, or as Fair Trade USA puts it on its website, a "market-based approach that gives farmers fair prices, workers safe conditions, and entire communities resources for fair, healthy and sustainable lives."

But the group's new policy changes have many reeling in disgust, according to The New York Times (NYT). Rather than continue to promote small-scale coffee and cocoa farms that treat their workers humanely and pay them fair wages, for instance -- fair trade coffee and cocoa represent the vast majority of the fair trade market in the US -- Fair Trade USA wants to allow large plantations the opportunity to achieve fair trade status.

Under current guidelines, fair trade products certified by Fair Trade USA also must have at least 25 percent fair trade content in order to bear the full "Fair Trade Certified" logo (http://www.fairtradeusa.org/certification/la...). But under the new guidelines, products with as little as ten percent fair trade ingredients could bear the same label, which some say will confuse customers and ultimately destroy the integrity and reputation of the fair trade market.

"Starbucks, Green Mountain and other coffee companies will be able to become 100 percent fair trade not because they've changed their business practices one iota but because Fair Trade USA has changed the rules of the game," said Dean Cycon, founder of the Dean's Beans Organic Coffee Company in Orange, Mass., to the NYT. And along the same lines, Rink Dickinson, president of Equal Exchange, an importer of fair trade coffee, chocolate, tea and bananas, said the move is a "betrayal" and that Fair Trade USA has "lost their integrity."

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