A group of businesses, organizations and consumers are accusing TransFair USA of attempting to own the term ‘Fair Trade’.

In October of last year, TransFair USA officially changed their name to Fair Trade USA, thus sparking the debate within the Fair Trade movement about the ramifications of one organization claiming ownership of the term ‘Fair Trade.’ On Monday, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) sent out a petition urging everyone to tell TransFair USA that “Fair Trade is a movement, not a brand.”

One organization, TransFair USA, is currently in the process of changing its name to “Fair Trade USA” and applied for the name to be trademarked. Such an umbrella phrase attempts to legally claim, as an exclusive brand, a term that encompasses this broad movement far beyond its specific work.
[We] believe that the term [Fair Trade] should be celebrated as a movement, not a brand claimed by any one organization.

In a press release from Fair Trade USA regarding their name change they stated that, “[their] updated, simplified name and brand identity will support the organization’s efforts to increase awareness of Fair Trade among a broader consumer audience, increase sales of Fair Trade Certified™ products, and generate more benefits for farmers and workers around the world.”

Currently, Fair Trade USA works with 800 companies and has certified more than 6,000 products since its founding in 1998. Already a big force in the Fair Trade movement, is their name change a way of claiming ‘Fair Trade’ as an exclusive brand for themselves as OCA contends or will this organizational identity shift benefit the movement as a whole by increasing the name and concept recognition of ‘Fair Trade’ as Fair Trade USA states?

Since the petition was released in early January 2011, the coalition against the rebranding of Fair Trade USA has expanded to include leading Fair Trade organizations and companies such as Fair Trade Federation and Equal Exchange as well as over 8,000 consumers.

Such an overwhelming response has not gone unnoticed by Fair Trade USA as they e-mailed the United Students for Fair Trade listserv in response to the petition:

Regarding our new name, we have, in fact, submitted a service mark application for our new corporate name and logo “Fair Trade USA.” We believe that this is appropriate as the U.S. member of the umbrella organization, Fairtrade International.

We do agree that Fair Trade is a movement, not a brand. Therefore, we will
not attempt to trademark [the] term ‘Fair Trade.’ In fact, no one can trademark a fair use term such as ‘Fair Trade.’ That’s why groups like the Fair Trade Resource Network, Fair Trade Federation, and the Domestic Fair Trade Alliance all have the words “Fair Trade” in their names.

A debate like this is just part of the growing pains that have come with a movement that has greatly expanded in the last few years, and one in which only time and open dialogue will help bring all sides to a working consensus.

However, in the end we should all be able to agree that Fair Trade is a unifying force with the ultimate goal of bringing fairness and justice to the trade table.

Have something to share regarding this debate? Who owns Fair Trade? Is it somebody, nobody, or everybody? Be part of the open dialogue and weigh in on the issue in the comments section below.