TWEET: New Fairtrade America executive reasserts smallholders role.
Hans P. Theyer was named executive director of Fairtrade America May 13 of the newly organized affiliate of the international Fairtrade system. He is charged with articulating the organization’s social mission after a schism invited major retailers to abandon Fairtrade certification in favor of a rival program run by Fair Trade USA.
Theyer confronts the challenge of re-establishing relationships with suppliers severed in January 2012 when Fair Trade USA cut its ties to Fairtrade International, diverting millions in funding after 13 years as an affiliate. The staff at Fair Trade USA, based in California, introduced a new label and began certifying large plantations and estates. The group also introduced programs that emphasized the importance of growing fair trade sales through marketing by major retailers and member suppliers.
Theyer is not without allies. Equal Exchange, the largest fair trade coffee company in the U.S., refused to accept the policy change and campaigned publicly to convince other suppliers to remain with Fairtrade International.
“Fair Trade, a product of years of sweat, sacrifice and risk, belongs to the farmers. But Fair Trade USA has abandoned the legitimate international system, not paid its dues, and changed the rules to allow large-scale plantations and private estates into the coffee system. With this move, they threaten to reverse decades of hard-won gains while potentially putting at risk the very survival of the farmer co-operatives,” declared Equal Exchange Co-Presidents Rob Everts and Rink Dickinson who made their point in full page newspaper advertising addressed to coffee giant Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.
Their appeal “to leave Fair Trade USA and rejoin the international certifier in which small farmers have a true seat at the table and governance power” was ignored.
Tea blenders, roasters, retailers and others holding Fair Trade certifications in many instances were forced to pay both Fair Trade USA and Fairtrade International.
Theyer’s zeal for small holders is apparent. “I have seen first-hand the incredible difference fair trade can make for farmers, workers and entire communities in developing countries,” he said. He also made clear his intent to raise public awareness of Fairtrade’s core mission “in partnership with companies, retailers, producers and all fair trade advocates that share our vision of building a vibrant fair trade movement in the United States.”
The stakes are high. Globally, fair trade certified goods amounted to $6.6 billion in sales in 2011, up 27 percent since 2009. Retailers in several categories including sugar, coffee and tea now find stocking their shelves with fair trade labeled goods essential to attract a growing niche of customers. Fair Trade USA founder and Chief Executive Paul Rice argues the split was essential to maintain this momentum. “We are after results,” he told BusinessWeek
after announcing the decision. “We want to get things done.” His announced goal is to double U.S. sales of fair trade goods by 2015. To achieve this goal additional products such as fair trade cotton will be certified. More controversial is the decision to certify products made with a combination ingredients. In considering chocolate bars for example, cocoa in some Hershey Bars earned the Fair Trade USA seal even though the sugar used to make the chocolate bars was not fair trade certified. In March Hershey’s, the largest American chocolate maker, announced it would source 100 percent of its cocoa from fair trade certified suppliers including both Fairtrade and Fair Trade USA. The decision followed a seven-year campaign by the Raise the Bar, Hershey! Coalition.
Prior to joining Fairtrade America, Theyer helped create and run a consulting practice specializing in developing social impact strategies for businesses. He previously served as Executive Director of Agros International, a non-profit organization dedicated to rural poverty alleviation throughout Central America and Mexico. Hans was a leader in Microsoft’s Rural Computing effort, an initiative to empower emerging markets throughout the rural, developing world with access to information and communications technology.
Originally from Chile, Theyer holds a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) degree from London Business School. His business experience includes sales, marketing and business development positions with Microsoft and leading international banking institutions.
“Hans brings tremendous assets to Fairtrade America, including a fantastic combination of business and international development experience, strong connections and work with rural communities across Latin America and Asia, and fresh ideas and vision for growing Fairtrade in the United States,” said Bama Athreya, Board Chair, Fairtrade America. “Under Hans’ leadership we look forward to collaborating with our business and non-profit stakeholders so that more Americans will learn about fair trade, buy Fairtrade products and have the opportunity to play an active part in empowering small farmers and workers to improve their lives.”
— Dan Bolton
©Mystic Media 2013