Paul Rice, 2005 Skoll Award recipient, is out to change the world. His motivation? The nearly one billion farmers and workers across the globe earning two or three dollars a day, less than what we pay for a morning latte or chocolate bar.
These are the people working 18 or more hours a day to grow and pick our food, but who can’t even afford to feed their own families. In his role as the president and CEO of Fair Trade USA, a non-profit certifier of Fair Trade products, Paul is part of a vibrant global movement to empower producers to fight poverty, work in safe conditions and trade ethically. He stands among a growing sea of businesses, NGOs and consumers who want to make every purchase matter.
Since Paul launched Fair Trade USA in 1998, the organization has helped Fair Trade farmers and workers earn over $350 million in additional income. There are now more than 12,000 Fair Trade Certified™ products in the marketplace from over 900 companies, including new and emerging categories like apparel and coconuts.
But according to Paul, their work is far from done. Fair Trade currently represents just a fraction of global production. This means that most of the world’s farmers, and most of the products we buy, are not part of any sustainability effort. That’s why Paul and his team are launching a massive effort to raise $25 million—the money needed to ensure that the proper systems, technologies and programs are in place to build a solid foundation for the future of Fair Trade.
Thanks to a generous gift from Bob Stiller, founder of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. and his wife Christine, Fair Trade USA is well on its way. A $10 million challenge grant, the largest in the organization’s history, is a critical first step toward a new goal: channeling $1 billon back to Fair Trade producers by 2020.
In an interview with Paul, we learned a bit more about the $10 million gift and what it really means:
1. What is a challenge grant?
This grant is definitely a unique one for the organization. Essentially we must raise an additional $10 million from other foundations and individuals in order to unlock the $10 million from Bob Stiller. It’s really a matching gift—an amazing way to leverage excitement and to get out there in front of the world’s philanthropic leaders with the Fair Trade message.
While on the topic, I want to express our deep gratitude to the Stiller family. Bob Stiller founded Green Mountain back in 1981, and grew it into one of the world’s largest purchasers of Fair Trade Certified coffee. He has directly touched the lives of millions of farming families across the globe through Fair Trade, and this new investment is an emphatic statement of his continued support.
2. How will this money be used?
Based on where we want to be in 2020—$1 billion back to Fair Trade producers—we tasked ourselves with identifying the major work streams needed to get there. These include:
Producer capacity-building: By investing in small-scale farmers, farm workers and factory workers, we can accelerate the growth of the Fair Trade movement.
For example, we’re building better, more systematized programs and trainings for farmers and workers. This includes trainings to improve business acumen, as well as quality development programs to help producers better meet the needs of buyers. It also means trainings on things like food safety, which we are beginning to do with farm workers in Mexico, as well as deeper education on individual rights, health and safety, and democratic organization.
Technology is also a critical piece of this work. At the farm level, for example, we’re developing a tool that helps cooperatives better capture and report on individual transaction information. We’re after a deeper level of transparency that benefits everyone in the supply chain.
Strengthening the certification model: This is largely about building robust internal systems that will prepare us to work more efficiently on a larger scale. For example, we want to better track, manage and report on impact information—we hear this continuously from producers and businesses. We’ll be investing heavily in data collection systems that will allow us to dive deeper into Fair Trade, including areas that have historically been harder to measure like education levels over time, community health and other things that certification impacts.
We also need to invest in standards development and maintenance. This is critically important as we bring Fair Trade to new regions, launch new product categories and grow existing ones. We want to continue to ensure that our standards are having their intended impact across a variety of situations, and that auditing is efficient and cost effective.
Consumer engagement and product availability: If one thing is true, it’s that there can be no impact to farmers if consumers aren’t choosing Fair Trade. By investing in grassroots programs like Fair Trade Campaigns (Fair Trade Towns, Universities, etc.), producing free educational materials, broadening social media engagement, and allying with key bloggers and influencers, we can build an army of Fair Trade advocates. Our goal is 90 percent awareness in the U.S. by 2020. Today we’re at 55 percent, and we’re working hard to catch up to Europe (where almost everyone knows about Fair Trade).
We’re also focused on getting more Fair Trade products where people shop. Working with retailers across the country to procure and promote Fair Trade products is a top priority.
3. Who will benefit most from this grant?
The majority of the money raised will go toward important building blocks, like training programs and technologies, which will benefit all farmers and workers participating in Fair Trade. There will also be regional and product-specific projects, which will be based on both need and on market indicators. And we’ll focus largely on helping cooperatives, who represent the vast majority of our producer partners, remain strong and competitive in the face of immense social, economic, and environmental challenges.
4. What is your vision for the future of Fair Trade?
Our vision for Fair Trade is not only one that embraces the entire producing community—from factory workers in India to coffee growers in Peru—but also one that better bridges the gap between those who produce the world’s food and goods and those who consume them.
Of the approaches that aim to do this, Fair Trade is one of the most promising, scalable and proven solutions. And it has never been better positioned to expand exponentially than it is today.