Green business conferences and expos seem to happen almost every weekend these days, but for fair trade advocates, there’s still just one major get together — the Fair Trade Federation Conference.

And this year’s event should be a fascinating one for anyone interested in the debates surrounding fair trade. An announcement by TransFair USA — a certifying organization for fair trade products in the U.S. — to change its name to Fair Trade USA sparked an outcry from some fair trade businesses and groups, who argue one organization can’t claim the phrase “fair trade” for itself. That debate has reignited a larger, long-running debate over the standards required for fair trade certification — and especially the use of fair trade certification logo by big corporations that critics say “fairwash” their entire brands by using only a token amount fair trade ingredients in a few products.

TransFair USA
has indeed changed its name to Fair Trade USA — and engaged in the ongoing, sometimes-contentious, sometimes-friendlier debate. “At Fair Trade USA our definition [of fair trade] is simple,” the organization noted in an announcement about its name change. “For a product to bear our Fair Trade Certified label, all the ingredients in that product that can be certified Fair Trade will be.”

All these debates will happen IRL at the Fair Trade Federation Conference, whose schedule includes not just the usual speakers and panels, but also debates (“Is the Fair Trade Movement hampered in its growth? Why or why not?” is one topic) and working groups (“Should we abandon the term “Fair” Trade?” is one question that’ll be discussed).

Put together by the Fair Trade Federation, a trade association for North American businesses fully committed to fair trade, the annual conference returns for 2011 from May 6 to 8 in Milwaukee. The three-day event will bring together fair trade entrepreneurs and businesses with advocates, students, and anyone curious about fair trade to network, discuss fair trade issues, and learn about the business of fair trade.

In addition to the schedule of events, the conference will feature a marketplace with more than 50 fair trade vendors. Conference fees range from $125 for students to $400 for the general public.

'Fair trade' to get a fair debate
The Fair Trade Federation Conference in May will tackle tough questions in the activist and business communities about what 'fair' really means.