Fair Trade USA (FTUSA) recently announced its "Fair Trade for All" initiative with policy revisions that, depending on who you talk to, will either hurt or help the future of its fair trade certification in the U.S. While FTUSA seeks to provide a platform for more companies to do good and support farmers, fair trade-focused U.S. organizations have petitioned FTUSA to rescind the rule, saying it contributes to "fair washing."

The new initiative allows a blended product (not a whole product, such as coffee) to be labeled "Fair Trade Certified" if it contains 25 percent certified fair trade ingredients. To carry the "Fair Trade Certified (Ingredients)" mark, a product now may contain 10 percent certified fair trade ingredients.

Stacy Geagan Wagner, director of marketing and PR for Fair Trade USA, said the program "gives companies the ability to participate regardless of how big or small they are, if they're in a niche category of natural products or if they're a more mass-consumer targeted business." She noted the 25 percent rule is also stricter than the Fairtrade Labelling Organization's 20 percent requirement.

Last week, the Fair World Project (FWP), a campaign of the Organic Consumers Association, the nation’s largest network of green and ethical consumers, challenged FTUSA on its new policy. The organization sent a letter to FTUSA saying it will not recognize FTUSA as a reputable fair trade certifier unless it reverses its proposed labeling and commercial availability standards by Jan. 1, 2012.

Under the FTUSA's new policy, as long as products meet the 25 percent requirement, they can sport the Fair Trade Certified logo, no matter how many ingredients it takes to get there. Dana Gefner, executive director of FWP, said this is problematic because it offers corporations no incentive to increase the amount of fair trade-certified ingredients after they've hit the 25 percent threshold; it also undermines fully committed brands.

Airing a public grievance against Fair Trade USA has been a long time coming, said Gefner. "Right now, they have not engaged any stakeholders in any of their processes, and fair trade is really about opening up, being completely transparent and talking to many stakeholders throughout the fair trade movement. They haven't done that."