Loading Episode...
Infinite Earth Radio – weekly conversations with leaders building smarter, more sustainable, and equitable communities - Michael Hancox EPISODE 20, 19th May 2016
Fair Trade and the World’s Largest Coffee Break
00:00:00 00:30:14

Fair Trade and the World’s Largest Coffee Break


The Impact of Trade Deals in America


[02:36] Introduction of Rodney North.

[03:13] Rodney shares about when he became passionate about fair trade.

[04:27] Rodney explains the mission of Fairtrade America.

[05:54] Rodney describes the coffee-focused project Fairtrade America is involved in.

[07:45] Is there a corollary within the tea industry for those who don’t drink coffee?

[09:24] Why is fair trade an important issue for working-class and lower-income Americans?

[10:24] How would you define “fair trade”?

[13:33] Rodney explains NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).

[16:15] How do trade deals impact the environment, working-class Americans, and our communities?

[18:52] Is it possible to structure a trade deal when the cost-of-living imbalance is so great on a global scale?

[23:03] If people don’t understand the value of organized labor and being paid a fair wage, are they able to understand what’s happening with the undermining of workers in other parts of the world?

[26:07] Where can listeners learn more about Fairtrade America?

[26:48] Rodney shares one change that would lead to smarter, more sustainable, and more equitable communities.

[27:40] Rodney describes the action listeners can take to help build a more equitable and sustainable future.

[28:52] Rodney explains what trade looks like 30 years from now.


Rodney North is Fairtrade America’s Director of Marketing and External Relations. Rodney oversees Fairtrade America’s marketing, public relations and advocacy efforts to increase awareness and support for equitable business practices involving smallholder farmers and other stakeholders. He has worked in the fair trade foods movement longer than all but a handful of individuals in the nation and has been deeply involved in communicating the fair trade story to diverse constituencies. Prior to his role at Fairtrade America, Rodney worked for Equal Exchange, a worker-owned cooperative and market leader in the fair trade and organic food movements. North joined the pioneering company in 1996, serving in various positions, including for the past 15 years in media relations and public advocacy roles. He earned the nickname The Answer Man because of his extensive knowledge of fair trade, the global food industry, small farmer co-operatives, socially responsible and sustainable business practices, and how business models intersect with human development. At Equal Exchange, North was also one of the co-operative’s 120 worker-owners. He was a two-term director of the enterprise’s Board of Directors, and he served as Vice Chair for three years. North has also volunteered with the Fair Trade Federation (membership screening committee), and for four years was an advisor to the board of directors of La Siembra, a Canadian worker co-operative and 100% fair trade, 100% organic food company.


Fairtrade America is a national, nonprofit organization committed to helping smallholder farmers and workers around the world get a fairer price for their products, access to international markets, and funds for community development that will enable them to lead better lives, and invest in their communities. Fairtrade America is a member of Fairtrade International, which comprises 25 such organizations around the world and three producer networks that together establish international Fairtrade standards. Fairtrade International is unusual among ethical certifications due to the large governance role played by its members in the global south. Participating farmer producer groups hold half the votes in the Fairtrade International General Assembly and more than one-third of the seats on the Fairtrade International board of directors. The Fairtrade Mark is the most recognized and trusted ethical label worldwide, found on products sold in over 120 countries that are sourced from over 1,200 producer organizations representing 1.5 million farmers and workers in more than 65 countries. The FAIRTRADE Certification Mark is backed by high level global standards and audited by a rigorous auditing system from farm to shelf.


“If we, as a society, turn a blind eye to the fate of struggling workers elsewhere, that ultimately doesn’t help us here. Conversely, if we do show an interest and say, hey…looking at what’s happening in rural Puru or the mines of South Africa, if we look at that and say, you know, that just ain’t right, that’s not acceptable; well then that begins a conversation, like, well wait a minute, you know, what’s happening down the row, you know, in Toledo or, you know, the farm fields of Florida, well that isn’t right either. It rarely promotes justice anywhere by turning a blind eye to it somewhere else. I’m paraphrasing what Martin Luther King said about injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“You could say there’s fair trade—two words—which is a movement that goes way back, certainly to the post-war era, and, really, any kind of conscientious set of voluntary business practices that are designed explicitly to deliver an extra benefit—an extra social, economic, political benefit—to the producers…It’s not charity; it is saying that through my commerce with you…I’m going to try to apply something of the Golden Rule. I’m going to put myself in your shoes and ask, well, what would I want…if I was that worker in the Caribbean or Africa or wherever it is.”

“A trade deal, theoretically, could be very good for workers on both sides of the border. As it is, I would suggest that the way they’re written, it puts the owners of businesses—the ones who can move back and forth across the border—that they’re the winners, whether they’re American or Mexican or Canadian or what have you. And that’s the real issue…So, that it’s not so much about Americans versus workers in other countries, but it’s workers in both countries, or every country, who are in a struggle with the owners of the businesses.”

“Trade deals are rules agreed upon by many parties. One problem is that who is at the table shaping those rules? And I personally, Rodney North, would say that too often it’s shaped by money, not shaped by people. These rules are shaped by lobbyists and therefore it’s not the average person in either country who’s winning. It’s, rather, like, the party of money.”


Fairtrade America

Fairtrade America’s Blog

“Free” can be Good, but Fair is Better (Fairtrade America blog post)

World Fairtrade Challenge

National Cooperative Business Association


Thanks so much for joining us. Have some feedback or an idea you’d like to share? Leave a note in the comment section below.

If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and leave an honest review for Infinite Earth Radio on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are super helpful and greatly appreciated as it helps us expose this show to a wider audience – plus, we read each and every one of them!