Fairtrade International USA’s Enrique Hennings on sharing Fair Trade space

Enrique Hennings isn’t wasting any time in his new position as Interim Operations Manager for Fairtrade International USA. “There are a lot of things to do, and we need to do them now, and we need to do them faster,” Hennings tells Global Coffee Review.  Hennings is referring to setting up an official American unit of Fairtrade International (FLO), the international labelling organisation under which most regional Fairtrade certifications falls. The United States has been without a national branch since Fair Trade USA (FTUSA)’s official resignation from membership of FLO as of 31 December 2011. The decision was largely attributed to FTUSA’s decision to certify coffee outside of smallholder farms, in an initiative entitled ‘Fair Trade For All’. The result of FTUSA’s resignation – what has been called the “Fair Trade break-up” – has forced American roasters to choose between Fair Trade labelling initiatives. Hennings says that the American office is not about “competing” with other labelling organisations, but rather doing everything they can to help promote the Fairtrade movement. “Fairtrade International has been around a very long time,” he says. “We’ll continue with the same work we’ve been doing.”  In terms of differentiating the two labelling organisations, following FTUSA’s decision to withdraw from FLO, Hennings says: “I think it’s up to FTUSA to differentiate from us”. “We are concentrated on smallholder farmers in coffee, we always have been, and we’ll continue along that line of work,” he says. “We’re following a movement that’s responsible to the stakeholders.”   While this differentiation may be more easily communicated to roasters, Hennings says consumers are less likely to understand the difference. As both organisations are encouraging general education of Fair Trade, he says a strong US presence by both groups can help the movement as a whole. “Whether it’s from FLO or Fair Trade USA, it’s getting the information out there to consumers that’s important,” says Hennings. “It is about the people. It is not a competition. It is about doing the right thing.” To this end, Hennings says setting up a US office for FLO has for a while been on the cards for the organisation. “Stakeholders have for long wanted to feel the presence of the international movement here in the US,” he says. “New stakeholders want to know more about the international system.”
FLO USA will follow the same guiding principles it does elsewhere, ensuring stakeholders’ needs and opinions are driving the organisation.
“Our mission is to improve market access for producers, and we’ll do that as we always have, through labelling initiatives and working with roasters and the trade,” he says. This is a key component in FLO’s new strategy entitled “Unlocking the power of many”. In the US, Hennings says engaging with grassroots Fair Trade movements will be important in this regard. “There are a lot of stakeholders in the US, they want to see our structure and see how our initiatives work,” he says. “Fair Trade is not only a labelling initiative. It’s so much more than that.” To engage these stakeholders, Hennings says he plans to hold different workshops to get input on the best path for FLO to take in the US.
“We have a lot of supporters in the US, and they know the market best. We need to ensure to learn from them,” he says. This won’t be the first time Henning has set up a new unit for FLO. He joined the organisation two and half years ago, applying his background in agri-business and finance helping producers access financing. His FLO efforts saw the creation of a new unit dedicated specifically to this cause. The unit now mainly oversees the access to two funds. One is managed by the Deutsche Bank in Africa, where FLO facilitates producer access to these funds. The other is the Fairtrade Access Fund, which provides farmers’ cooperatives and associations long-term loans needed to renew their farms, or adopt new technologies and equipment. “This is really a great fund, as it is intended for long-term finance for producers, something that they are really in need of,” says Hennings. “The majority of funds available elsewhere are concentrated on trade finance, but these producers also need long-term funds for renovations of their farms.” Hennings says these initiatives are set up to fill the gap of the US$1.2 billion of financial resources needed to cover the needs of Fairtrade Producer Organisations. Hennings plans to bring this experience to the US, in working with funding organisations to help link them with producers. As Interim Operations Manager, Hennings  will oversee the appointment of an official FLO USA board, set to be announced by the time this publication goes to print. As applications for Executive Director of the new unit were due at the end of 2012, Hennings says the board will appoint a new leader in due course, and he will help the new leader in the transition period. “For us, this is a very good moment in what’s happening in the Fair Trade movement,” he says. “We have a lot of support from different companies and roasters, and we’re doing our best to deliver what’s needed.” GCR

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