Monday, September 27, 2010

Moving Forward for Fair Trade

Straight from the Fair Trade Futures conference I headed to vacation, by the waters of Provincetown, MA. Once I got off the post-conference high--savoring 762 participants from five continents, recalling all the great friends and colleagues I reconnected with, and pleased that my minimal Spanish and native English seem to get me through welcoming speeches and meals with coffee farmers--I began to chart out what my next steps are post-conference. No resolution yet of course. Here are some areas that were front and center at the conference:

* How to make sure producer voices are listened to throughout standard setting processes, story-telling on impact, and overall strategies. This in the midst of sometimes limited governance structures (i.e. FLO board and committee structure), capacity issues within key Fair Trade organizations (ex. the struggles of WFTO and the scope of FTF's mission) and new welcome of IMO (whose entry in the Fair Trade movement I so far greet with general optimism)

* Can a "tiered" system indicating the gold standards of Fair Trade commitment (think Peace Coffee or Handmade Expressions) in comparison to a silver (Green Mountain? World of Good on e-bay?) or bronze (enter your ideas here!) really work? It has been kicked around for more than 5 years now. Each time I dig into what a rating system would look like, I run into barriers, even with good resources such as the Better World Shopping Guide.

* How to build consumer accountability into the Fair Trade movement. Yes, everyone talks about increasing business transparency. But how do we get consumers actually involved in being part of the system? A big part of the conference buzz was that many didn't realize the challenges Fair Trade was facing. I want those newly informed people to help us Fair Trade "leaders" be solutionaries.

* Does the launch of a new name for TransFair USA indicate an opening to culture changes in its approach to collaboration, leadership, and mission? Or it is an ill-advised move that suggests domination of the movement instead of finding its appropriaterole in the Fair Trade ecosystem?

I definitely don't have the answers, but I do have some newly discovered sources of information. Check out the new Fair Trade journal: Fair Trade: Unique & Sustainable and the new organization linking Fair Trade and organics: Fair World Project. And stayed tuned on this blog, as I keep musing. Of course, I welcome your reflections and ideas!

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