Do Words Matter?

There is a growing buzz of concern in the Fair Trade community, focusing on the term “Fair Trade”. Recently the folks running the largest U.S. certifier of Fair Trade products, TransFair USA, announced they were changing the organization’s name from TransFair USA to Fair Trade USA. They also
announced they were trade marking this new name. A complaint has been filed with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to stop this action. So what is the concern?

Fair Trade activists and businesses are questioning who owns the phrase “Fair Trade”. Should any one group be allowed to trademark a name using the words Fair Trade? Some people want TransFair USA to keep their original name, others have suggested using the international term “Fairtrade” instead of “Fair
Trade”. All the certifying organization members of the international certifying organization FLO currently use one of two terms for their name: TransFair (plus the country name) or Fairtrade (plus the country name).

What is the Difference Between Fair Trade and Fairtrade?

According to Fairtrade International, formerly called Fair Trade Labelling Organisations International and referred to as FLO, the difference between the terms “Fair Trade” and “Fairtrade” is the following:

“The term Fairtrade is used to describe the certification and labelling system governed by FLO. The Fairtrade system allows consumers to identify goods that have met Fairtrade standards.
The term Fair Trade is used to refer to the Fair Trade movement as a whole and can be used to describe both labelled and unlabeled goods and the work of Alternative Trade Organizations (ATOs), Fair Trade federations and networks such as NEWS, EFTA etc. The term fair trade is a broader term often used to describe one or many of the above, and is also used to refer to trade justice issues.”
Fair Trade International

Unfortunately here in the U.S. we only see the term Fair Trade being used, regardless of what is being referenced. Thus consumers may equate product certification as the Fair Trade movement, when in fact the movement encompasses a much larger goal than just promoting sales. The broader movement involves addressing needed changes in corporate behavior and trade policies, as well as sustainable development. The term Fairtrade is used throughout the rest of the world, especially in Europe where the Fair Trade movement has a strong grass roots base.

Should TransFair USA change its name to Fair Trade USA and trademark that new name?

Recently the largest U.S. certifier of Fairtrade products changed its name from TransFair USA to Fair Trade USA, causing considerable discussion among activists and businesses about who owns Fair Trade and what the consequences are when a certifier wants to trademark a name that includes a term globally recognized as referencing a social justice movement.

Below are some links of various opinions on this important topic:

TransFair USA’s press release

Organic Consumers Association’s “Come Clean Campaign”

Small Farmers Big Change: To Tell You the Truth: Who Owns Fair Trade?

What are your thoughts? Do words matter?


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