Reassessing the Role of Certifications

By Tracy Ging

About a year ago at the annual roasters Guild retreat, we posed the question in the roundtable discussions, “is fair Trade dead?” We selected the subject because it was a trending topic. in side conversations, blog comments and on the roasters Guild forum, people were discussing the purpose of an additional premium in a high-priced market, with growing adoption of direct relationship models. As the conversation rolled on and spread out, what we heard again and again was: “no, fair Trade’s not dead. But its role is changing.”

The potential evolution of fair Trade continues as a popular topic, with a discussion thread (May 2011) on the roasters Guild forum inspiring positive and constructive comments about benefits to producers, effectiveness of cooperatives, marketing value, availability, relevance for smaller roasters and so on.

The conversation was accelerated when the Stanford Social Innovation Review released an article entitled, “The problem with fair Trade Coffee,” (C. haight, 2011)(1). Although a good portion of reader comments related to the validity of the author’s research and conclusions, the article and subsequent posts highlighted persistent questions about the impact, value and burden of fair Trade—opening up a more fundamental question, “is there a problem with fair Trade?”

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