From 26th to 31st of May, Rio will be hosting the Global Fair Trade Week and the 12th Biennial Conference of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO). This event is supposed to be the largest gathering of Fair Trade actors in the history of the whole movement. It will bring together participants from over 70 countries, amongst them solidarity economic businesses, non-profit organisations, private businesses and academics.
The 12th WFTO Conference will be held at the same time as the Global Fair Trade Week, playing a major role in the event schedule. This year’s conference focus will be on a new approach to business and livelihoods in line with the core values of Fair Trade, including transparency and long term partnership. WFTO will discuss a new global Fair Trade certification system as well as presenting a new product label for WFTO members.
The upcoming conference is just happening at the right time, as the worldwide Fair Trade landscape is changing. Fair Trade USA recently left the Fair Trade Labelling Organization (FLO) for various reasons, including the desire to certify coffee grown on plantations as fair trade. Increased demand in Fair Trade products also may lead to a watering down of standards in general, thus having less impact on the livelihoods of smallholders. Large retail chains are now jumping on the bandwaggon, establishing their own FT product lines. Fair trade players such as GEPA Germany recently introduced own labels for parts of their assortment. Small private businesses are coming up with a new term called „direct fair trade“ not using labels at all, but being transparent in regards to their business models and supply chains.
There are two sides of the same coin with this proliferation of labels in fair trade. On the one hand it shows, that more and more consumers are interested in and willing to buy ethically produced products. On the other hand, with so many labels and certifications on the market now, research, monitoring and control gets more and more difficult and maybe not all of the labels are as rigourous as they could be. Lastly consumer confusion is raising caused by the multitude of labels and terms, thus leading to a situation already experienced with the term „organic“.
In the light of the recent developments within the worldwide Fair Trade landscape, it will be interesting to see how the Fair Trade community is going to respond to these challenges.