While new research from world governing fair trade organization Fair Trade Labelling International (FLO) shows that recognition of the Fairtrade mark has increased since 2008, planned changes by United States fair trade accreditation body Fair Trade USA to split from the FLO system, introduce its own fair trade label and certification, and change its fair trade content policy have come under attack from other USA fair trade advocates and organizations.

Fairtrade International (FLO) and Fair Trade USA (FTUSA) made a joint announcement in September and said they share a belief in the importance of empowering producers and workers around the world to improve their lives through better terms of trade.

“However, as we look to the future, we recognize that we have different perspectives on how best to achieve this common mission,” the statement said. “As a consequence, Fair Trade USA has decided to resign its membership of the Fairtrade International (FLO) system effective December 31, 2011.

“As we go our separate ways, both Fairtrade International and Fair Trade USA are committed to maintaining the benefits we have achieved for farmers and workers, for business partners and for our supporters, and to growing impact over time. We are working together on transition plans.

For single products such as coffee, 100% of ingredients must be Fairtrade certified to carry the Fairtrade mark, but Fairtrade USA’s chief executive Paul Rice is moving to meet the needs of larger food companies and he would also like to award the fair-trade label to coffee grown on larger estates. There are plans to lower content rules from 100% to 25% for single products and from 20% to no Fairtrade ingredients, such as by allowing Fairtrade chocolate to have non-Fairtrade sugar in composite products.

United Students for Fair Trade said the lowered standards undermine the Fair Trade values producers, activists, and consumers have advocated for since the inception of the Fair Trade movement in the late nineties. “We hereby pull our support from Transfair/Fair Trade USA and encourage others in the movement to do the same until drastic reforms can be made,” the group said.

Jonathan Rosenthal, a pioneer in the movement and co-founder of the Massachusetts-based cooperative Equal Exchange said the fair trade has caught the interest of big businesses, and that makes it possible to move large volumes of product.

Equal Exchange, which deals with farmers and grower organizations in developing countries such as Central and South America and Africa, recently announced it had chosen Swiss-based Marketecology, aka IMO Control to certify select Equal Exchange products as meeting Fair Trade standards.  “Equal Exchange has been dedicated to Fair Trade since launching this concept in the U.S. coffee market over 20 years ago. Together with its many partners – farmers, food co-ops, cafes, markets, schools, congregations and consumers – Equal Exchange has helped build a movement that believes that trade can be powerful economic and social tool to create a more just and sustainable world,” the co-operative group said.

FLO announced in October that in an historic decision, members of the global Fairtrade system voted unanimously to increase producer representation in the General Assembly to 50 percent, making producers half-owners of the global Fairtrade system. According to a global study of 17,000 consumers in 24 countries carried out for Fairtrade International by international opinion research consultancy GlobeScan Fairtrade is the most widely recognized ethical label globally, with global sales at 4.36 billion euros in 2010, up 28% over 2009, according to FLO.