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North American Fair Trade Movement Reports Big Advances
Published on Thursday, May 2, 2002 by
North American Fair Trade Movement Reports Big Advances
by Jim Lobe

The Fair Trade industry in North America made nearly US $100 million in gross sales in the year 2000, according to a new report released this week by the Fair Trade Federation (FTF), an association of retail and wholesale outlets committed to ensuring that Third World producers are paid a basic living wage for their products.

That total marked a major increase over previous years, according to the FTF which said it expects further increases in 2001 and 2002 primarily due to the rapidly growing market for fair-trade coffee sold by retail outlets, like the Seattle-based Starbucks chain, which are not themselves Fair Trade companies.

"Consumers are increasingly experiencing fair-trade products through non-fair-trade companies," according to Chris O'Brien, the report's author and project manager for Co-op America Business Network.

"Many more consumers are getting turned on to fair trade after first buying the coffee at Starbucks and other conventional outlets," he said pointing out that this success could be replicated with other fair-trade commodities, such as bananas, cocoa, honey, orange juice, and sugar--all of which are already sold by fair-trade outlets in Europe--when they are certified for sale in the United States as early as this year.

The Fair Trade movement in North America currently includes at least 110 companies which adhere to several basic principles.

To qualify, they must ensure that producers are paid a living wage for their products; provide their customers with information about the producers and their cultural identity, as well as the Fair Trade movement itself; and offer financial assistance through direct loans or other mechanisms to producers who often lack access to credit.

The producers themselves have certain obligations. They must be organized as co-operatives or small-scale associations which are committed to grassroots development and environmentally sustainable practices.

Since they first began operating in the 1970s, most FTF companies have sold crafts made by Third World producers, and have gradually moved into fair-trade commodities, of which coffee has become the most important.

Total gross sales of Fair Trade certified coffee in the U.S. and Canada for the year 2000 increased a full 50 percent over 1999, reaching $64.4 million at retail and making coffee the Fair Trade movement's biggest earner by far. Non-fair-trade outlets accounted for $56.9 million of the total, according to the report.

"This demonstrates the enormous potential for continued growth in commodities markets in particular," said O'Brien.

While Fair Trade companies grossed only about $7 million from coffee sales, they increased total sales over the year by 20 percent, to $41 million, according to the report.

Copyright 2002


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