The demand for and availability of Fair Trade products in the United States has increased dramatically since Fair Trade certification began in the U.S. through TransFair USA in 1998. The movement that began as a niche market driven by activists and frequently misunderstood as a charity, has become recognized by business leaders as a viable economic model and consumer-driven. What started as a small offering of products sold by alternative trade organizations is now a significant market segment, and multinational corporations have entered the Fair Trade arena. The Research Question that I am attempting to answer in this work is “What impact is the increasing presence of multinational corporations in Fair Trade Markets having on the Fair Trade Movement?” Through the use of Appreciative Inquiry and Positive Deviance methods, I examine the benefits of increasing Fair Trade and mainstreaming the market through multinational buy-in while acknowledging the potential threat of the Movement becoming watered down, based on potential decreased commitment to Fair Trade principles. Fair Trade is at a crossroad of shifting from a grassroots initiative to a mainstream market and in this paper I have taken a qualitative approach in identifying and analyzing ways in which the increased involvement of multinational corporations is impacting the Fair Trade Movement and the producer groups. My main findings include that for the Fair Trade market to continue to grow at an increasing rate, the capacity for certification and monitoring systems must grow exponentially. This is to ensure that Fair Trade principles do not become watered down. Consumer education and awareness must increase so that Fair Trade is not viewed as a fad but rather a viable economic model. The labeling initiatives in turn must be clear and coordinated so that consumers are empowered to make informed decisions. In addition, the relationship with the producer must remain direct and transparent at all levels of the supply chain.


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