FTRN Seeks Feedback on Organization’s Direction

Dear Friend of Fair Trade Resource Network,

As a dedicated fair trader, we are writing to seek your input on shaping the future of the Fair Trade Resource Network (FTRN).

In recent years, the Fair Trade movement has expanded to include more artisans, farmers, businesses and consumers than ever. As the Fair Trade circle has widened, the chorus of Fair Trade claims has also grown increasingly diverse.

FTRN emerged from the Fair Trade Federation in 1999 as a 501c3 nonprofit. Since then it has remained the only national organization devoted exclusively to Fair Trade education. FTRN has always embraced a diversity of approaches to Fair Trade, including company-wide commitments and practices, as well as product-based certifications. Each approach has played an important role in the movement.

However, as practical idealists, we must acknowledge that the spectrum of Fair Trade claims has diversified to such an extent that the movement faces important questions about its core values. Last fall, the FTRN staff and board held a retreat to plan how we could best continue to serve such a diverse landscape of interests.

We asked ourselves hard questions: What remains common among the diverse approaches to Fair Trade? Is there enough common ground that there continues to be a meaningful shared definition of the term? Or has the landscape shifted to such an extent that Fair Trade is not a single movement but rather a related set of approaches to trade, sometimes with complementary strategies and sometimes with competing ones. In short, is there a common Fair Trade identity?

If so, what is it and how can we galvanize it into common purpose? If not, is there no longer a critical mass of support for an organization dedicated exclusively to education about and service to all fair traders? Is it time for FTRN to celebrate its successes and make a dignified exit?

We asked these questions not as an abstract intellectual inquiry, but because the organization needed to make practical decisions about how to use its resources to best serve its stakeholders.

Our conclusion was unanimous. We continue to believe that there is more that we, as fair traders, share in common, than there is that divides us. With global trade continuing to play a dominant role in shaping the lives of artisans and farmers, the need for unifying our voices and amplifying our impact is as strong as ever. But how can we bring these voices into harmony?

That’s when we had our “eureka” moment. If differences are dividing the movement, then can we define what we share in common and leverage that into a powerful force for just and sustainable trade? We think we can do just that by conducting an open, multi-stakeholder, consensus-based process to define fair trade and develop a “standard for standards.” Using an independent standards development process, we propose the creation of a national definition, or standard, for the use of the term Fair Trade.

We would like to ask for your input to help us decide whether this idea is worth pursuing, and whether it can be financially supported. If not, and unless we hear other feasible ideas from you, our stakeholders, FTRN will explore options for dissolving the organization by the end of this year.

Please give us your feedback by June 30 using this online survey:

Once we’ve gathered feedback from stakeholders such as yourself, the Board plans to review the feedback and come to a formal decision on FTRN’s direction beyond summer. For reference, our mission & core programs are summarized at the end of this message. Thank you very much for supporting Fair Trade.


The FTRN Board of Directors:
Scott Codey – FTRN Board Chair
Chris O’Brien – FTRN Board Treasurer; Director of Sustainability, American University
Stephanie Sheerin – grant advisor of the Fair Trade and Economic Justice Fund, and lead organizer, Montclair Fair Trade Coalition
Tex Dworkin – Director of Social Media, Global Exchange
Adam Eidinger – Director of Mintwood Media Collective and Contractor for Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps
Billy Linstead Goldsmith – National Coordinator of Fair Trade Campaigns, Fair Trade USA
Mary Embry – founder of Fair Trade Bloomington, and core teaching faculty in the Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design Department, Indiana University

With: Jeff Goldman, Executive Director, Fair Trade Resource Network

FTRN Mission
Improve peoples’ lives through Fair Trade alternatives by providing leadership, inspiration and educational resources to people and organizations interested in building a more just and sustainable world through Fair Trade.

FTRN Core Programs

  1. Coordinating and promoting World Fair Trade Day events in U.S. & Canada
  2. Operating as a Fair Trade education and coordination hub
  3. Publishing Fair Trade news in a monthly e-newsletter & website
  4. Producing the Fair Trade photo contest and wall calendar
  5. Presenting webinars on topical Fair Trade issues
  6. Co-organizing national conferences for Fair Trade supporters and leadership meetings
  7. Presenting at trade shows, schools, conferences and other venues