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March 11, 2010

Green Mountain Coffee Commits Almost $1 Million for Fair Trade Towns

There's a Fair Trade revolution percolating at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.

GreenMountainBigLogo The Waterbury-based company and its affiliated Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Foundation are donating nearly $1 million over the next three years to promote and expand the number of designated "Fair Trade Towns" in the U.S.

Burlington became the nation's 12th official "Fair Trade Town" last fall when the city council voted to join a handful of cities that have made symbolic commitments to the principles of fair trade: fair prices for goods, just labor conditions and environmental sustainability.

Click here for background on the Burlington Fair Trade Town initiative.

Green Mountain Coffee this week announced a $50,000 grant to TransFair USA, the leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States, which runs the Fair Trade Town movement. Meanwhile, the GMCR Foundation, the charitable organization led by company founder and chairman Bob Stiller, has made a three-year commitment of $925,000 to establish "hundreds" of Fair Trade Towns across the country by 2013, according to a company press release. The foundation and company, and their money, are separate.

When Burlington followed Brattleboro as Vermont's second Fair Trade Town, one of the chief concerns was the lack of a marketing budget. The idea of becoming a Fair Trade Town is that those who believe in the principles of fair trade enjoy patronizing businesses in that town, thus bringing in more money. Organizers hoped that free media coverage and some promotional events — such as the Fair Trade expo held at Burlington City Hall in October — would get the word out.

The Fair Trade Town resolution passed by the Burlington City Council encouraged the administration — but didn't obligate it — to purchase Fair Trade goods using city funds, when they are as cheap as conventional alternatives.

Burlington has long had a healthy number of stores selling fair trade products, including coffee, honey, fruit, vanilla and artisan crafts. Now the organization helping to coordinate fair trade towns has an actual budget.

According to the press release, the funding will allow the U.S. Fair Trade Towns program to "develop online collaboration and organizing efforts, create education outreach materials and events, train leaders, and offer a grants program to support local organizing efforts."

"We believe Fair Trade Towns USA can be an effective model for educating consumers on how easy it is to make a positive difference in the world through the products we purchase," Stiller said in a written statement.

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