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January 14, 2011

Who owns a movement?

TransFair USA, the largest fair trade certifier in the U.S., changed its name to Fair Trade USA and is trying to trademark that name. What a shame.

It was only 12 years ago that IATP started TransFair USA. We didn’t hold on to it for long, since at the same time we also started Peace Coffee, a 100 percent fair trade coffee company (later certified by TransFair). To avoid a conflict of interest, IATP transferred all the accounts and assets of TransFair to another legal entity, and hired Paul Rice—who is still TransFair’s president—to run it. During the past 12 years, TransFair has grown from a small project to a globally significant institution, by far the leading fair trade certifying organization in the United States. IATP believes strongly in the principles of fair trade—paying producers a fair price, transparent contracts, independent third party certification. TransFair’s success story should make us proud. It doesn’t. TransFair’s growth has seemed to come at the expense of some of the core values of fair trade, making it increasingly more difficult to defend. But changing its name to Fair Trade USA and then trying to trademark it? This is the last straw. It also does not bode well for TransFair’s future.

Let’s remember this: TransFair didn’t grow in a vacuum. Over this same period the fair trade movement in the U.S. and globally has multiplied beyond all expectation. TransFair developed a business model that aggressively pursued signing up large coffee roasters and retailers to the TransFair label. While not the model IATP had in mind when we started TransFair, it has been very successful. The TransFair label can be seen from Starbucks to Wal-Mart. A downside of this model is that 100 percent fair trade coffee companies, who tend be smaller, more local, and, frankly, more fair trade—not only in percentage of business, but in paying producers more, having more transparency and supporting small producer cooperatives, etc.—have felt disenfranchised and are either migrating to a new label or considering self-certifying—a tremendous step backwards since independent third-party certification is a cornerstone of consumer confidence. At the same time, TransFair has turned its focus to the larger growers to assure the large roasters and retailers adequate supplies of coffee. This has led to small co-operative producers being edged out. TransFair could have done any number of things to differentiate a 100 percent fair trade coffee company like Peace Coffee from a Starbucks, for instance, but didn’t.

By trying to claim exclusive rights over the term Fair Trade USA, TransFair is making claim to a movement that, in large part, it is abandoning. We urge TransFair to reconsider plans to trademark the words fair trade and to focus building a strong fair trade movement that does the best it can by the producers, importers, retailers, and ultimately, the consumers who believe that trade can be fair and just.

Dale Wiehoff


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Fair Trade USA

Fair Trade USA is focused on alleviating poverty in the developing world and ensuring the most rigorous and sustainable social, economic and environmental standards are available to companies that want to participate in Fair Trade.

We value Peace Coffee's contribution to the Fair Trade movement and the company's dedication to farmers, show in it's 100% Fair Trade product offerings. Peace Coffee's commitment to Fair Trade has not only been significant in improving the lives of farmers, but it has also helped to increase consumer awareness of Fair Trade.

On that note, we must point out that we are dedicated to creating an inclusive Fair Trade model that benefits as many farmers and workers as possible. Internationally, our Fair Trade system has grown to support 1.2 million farmers and workers in 70 countries. For this reason, we offer Fair Trade Certification for products sold by retailers big or small, as long as they meet our strict Fair Trade standards.

Regarding our new name, we have, in fact, submitted a service mark application for our new organization name and logo "Fair Trade USA." We believe that this is appropriate as the U.S. member of the umbrella organization, Fairtrade International. Since introducing this new name to the public in October, we have been overwhelmed with positive feedback from our partners and consumers alike. Finally, we have an organization name that represents our mission.

We do agree that Fair Trade is a movement, not a brand. Therefore, we will not attempt to trademark term ‘Fair Trade.' In fact, no one can trademark a fair use term such as ‘Fair Trade.' That's why groups like the Fair Trade Resource Network, Fair Trade Federation, and the Domestic Fair Trade Alliance all have the words "Fair Trade" in their names.

There is a long way to go to increase Fair Trade awareness and engagement in the United States. Our former name, "TransFair USA," has little or no connection to what we do, nor does the public understand the word. It's imperative that we communicate our efforts more clearly to fulfill our mission. Growth in general public awareness for Fair Trade significantly increases the amount of impact dollars going back to producers. For example, Fair Trade awareness increased from 9% in 2005 to approximately 34% in 2010. At the same time, we saw Fair Trade premiums to producer communities increased from $14 million in 2005 to $48 million in 2010.

We should also be clear that Fair Trade USA certifies product supply chains, not corporate practices. We believe that any company that wants to support Fair Trade's comprehensive approach to social and environmental sustainability should be afforded the opportunity. All Fair Trade Certified products adhere to the same rigorous global Fair Trade standards.

We appreciate your concerns and sincerely hope that this information helps to clarify our genuine intentions and support for the Fair Trade movement.

ethrl merks

Wow, They are like any other type of business group that outgrows the initial purpose and that is too bad. And as far as others seeking other sources to get their product out more econmically that is their right especially if they can do it more cost efficiently. None the less, as long as they are operating w/ full disclosure whats the problem

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