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News from the North American Fair Trade Stakeholder SummitPosted by Matt Earley at about 8am on Tuesday May 22, 2012
From April 30 to May 2 I attended the North American Fair Trade Stakeholder Summit in Minneapolis, MN. The point of the meeting was to bring together diverse members of the "fair trade movement" in order to address recent developments in the fair trade scene. The meeting included coffee producers, coffee roasters, food companies, importers, textile sellers, NGOs, church groups, tea vendors, farm workers, and students. Representatives came from as far away as Nicaragua, Italy, and Canada. With an ambitious agenda that focused on looking at FT's past, assessing its present challenges, and visioning its future, we engaged in lively debate and discussion with an eye toward coming to a consensus about how to move fair trade forward.
The four goals of the summit were to:
- Define Fair Trade and the movement, what they are and what they are not.
- Organize the North American Fair Trade movement under a coordinated infrastructure with a common vision.
- Reach agreement on a plan for cooperation and accountability within the movement.
- Develop a clear external message for the movement.
The discussions and debates over the three days made it clear that there is a lot to talk about. While a lot of common ground was found in our collective understanding of the principles of fair trade, there was respectful disagreement around a variety of topics. In an ideal world there would have been three days of plowing through complex issues resulting in a total consensus by all who attended. Instead we found that we all need to continue to come together over the next few months and work toward understanding and agreement on a number of topics.
This was probably something of a disappointment to some present, but I believe that the meeting was a real success. The most important outcome of the summit was a North American fair trade movement that came together and became energized around all of the important issues that we need to take on. During our discussions we realized that over the years we increasingly ceded power to certifiers to not only verify FT practices, but to become the spokespeople for the movement itself-- and this was a mistake. The outcome of this in its most extreme form can be seen in "FairTrade USA" and its decision to leave the international FT networks in order to begin to set its own standards with no consultation or discussion with the larger fair trade movement. All at the summit agreed that this type of undemocratic action is unacceptable.
The best moments of the summit, in my opinion, came when several of us stood up and spoke directly to the certifiers (who came on the last day) on this theme reminding them that they are important tools of the movement, but not the movement itself. We respectfully put FTUSA on notice that we are organizing and that if they insist on unilateral and insulated decision-making, they will have to answer for their actions. The coffee farmers in the room took the opportunity to publicly state that they would no longer simply be told by the certifiying organizations how certification would be practiced on their organizations.
This sounds harsh, but it was actually very positive and respectful. Most importantly, we-- the mission-based fair traders who see fair trade as a social and political movement for authentic change-- reclaimed that power that we had slowly given away over the years due to lack of organization. Next steps will be proposed by the organizing group by June with the purpose of continuing to organize and unify our voices.
For more information on the Summit and the process moving forward, please click here.