Paul Rice

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Paul Rice
Paul Rice - World Economic Forum on the Middle East 2008.jpg
Paul Rice at the 2008 World Economic Forum
Occupation President and CEO of Fair Trade USA

Paul Rice is the President & CEO of Fair Trade USA, the leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States. Since launching Fair Trade USA (previously TransFair) in 1998, Paul has pushed to mainstream the Fair Trade movement and expand its impact.[1] He has challenged hundreds of companies to rework their global supply chains to obtain high-quality products that support community development and environmental protection.[2]

Paul’s work as a social entrepreneur has helped over 1.2 million farmers receive a fair price for their crops and compete in the global marketplace through direct, long-term contracts with international buyers.[3] With thousands of certified products found in 200,000 retail locations today,[4] Fair Trade USA’s Fair Trade Certified label is considered to be the leading mark of sustainability and responsible sourcing in the US.[5][6]

Paul has been criticized in recent years for his decision to resign Fair Trade USA’s membership from Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO), the international fair trade labeling organization.[7] While he argues that the split was necessary for expansion, some critics worry that scaling Fair Trade will dilute its impact. Paul is committed to expanding Fair Trade to impoverished laborers, whether or not they work on a cooperative, through his “Fair Trade for All” platform.[8]

Early life and education[edit]

Paul was raised in Dallas and Austin, Texas, the son of a single mother.[9] He graduated from St. Mark's School of Texas.

Paul was an entrepreneurial boy, selling newspapers, mowing lawns, and gardening in his community.[10] By saving his earnings, Paul was able to self-finance most of his college tuition at Yale University, where he enrolled in 1978.

At Yale, Paul studied Political Science and Economics, which sparked an interest in the issues of global hunger, poverty, and underdevelopment, particularly as they related to rural farming.[11] At nineteen, he took a year off from school and went to China to learn about land reform and the peasants' struggle to organize cooperatives. This experience cemented his decision to enter the field of international development after graduating in 1983.[12] Upon graduation, he spent over a decade working with agricultural farmers in Nicaragua, before returning to the US for a graduate degree. In 1996, Paul earned a Master's of Business Administration at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business.[13][14]


Rural Development Specialist[edit]

After college, Paul bought a one-way ticket to Nicaragua to work with smallholder farmers, thinking he would stay only one year.[15] As it turned out, Nicaragua became home to Paul for 11 years. There, Paul became a specialist in rural economic and cooperative development.[16] Traveling throughout the country, he helped hundreds of smallholder farmers organize cooperatives.[17]


In 1990, still in Nicaragua, Paul founded PRODECOOP, the country's first Fair Trade, organic coffee export cooperative. Within three years, the coop grew from 24 families to over 3,000.[18] Through the cooperative, these farmers got direct access to the global market and received higher compensation for their work. The additional income enabled them to improve the quality of life in their entire community.[19] Throughout this experience, Paul became convinced that the market—rather than foreign aid—was the most sustainable mode of poverty alleviation.[20]

After serving as CEO of PRODECOOP for four years, Paul transitioned leadership to a native woman who was the first female to lead a coffee company in the male-dominated Nicaraguan coffee industry.[21]

Subsequently, Paul served as strategy consultant and development advisor to 22 cooperative enterprises throughout Latin America and Asia, helping them become more competitive, democratic, and self-reliant.[22] Paul’s many years of first-hand experience abroad in the areas of global supply chain transparency, social auditing, sustainable agriculture, and cooperative enterprise development led him to found Fair Trade USA.

Fair Trade USA[edit]

After 11 years working with cooperatives, Paul returned to the US to expand the market for Fair Trade goods. The products would be certified as Fair Trade by Paul’s start-up, Fair Trade USA. Paul opened the first "national headquarters”—a one-room office in a converted warehouse in downtown Oakland—in late 1998.[23] He started off working with just a handful of mission-driven coffee companies. After gaining traction with coffee, Paul expanded the certification across new product categories, including fresh produce, spices, and cotton.[24]

Fair Trade USA works with over 800 businesses, which have adopted Fair Trade practices and carry its certification label on their products.[25] In 2011, Fair Trade products were valued at an estimated $1.5 billion. The organization currently certifies about 11,000 different products, enabling more than 8 million farmers, workers, and their families to live better.[26] By offering these individuals the opportunity to earn a livable wage, Fair Trade USA has helps them fund a range of community development projects, including water sanitation, health, and education programs.[27]

In 2011, Paul came under fire for his decision to resign Fair Trade USA’s membership from the Fair Trade Labeling Organization (FLO), the international fair trade labeling organization.[28] While FLO only certifies small cooperatives (in coffee), Paul wanted to expand certification to farm workers and independent smallholders that were previously excluded from Fair Trade. The move was controversial, given Fair Trade’s tradition of working with small scale farmers. After the split, Fair Trade USA launched the “Fair Trade of All” campaign, an agenda for doubling the impact of Fair Trade and including more people in its benefits.[29]

Honors and awards[edit]

Paul has received numerous honors and awards for his pioneering work as a social entrepreneur in the Fair Trade movement, including:


Paul has become a distinguished speaker and leader in economic development, social enterprise, and corporate responsibility. Some of his engagements include:

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]

  1. Fair Trade USA's Official Website
  2. Ashoka Fellowship Profile
  3. Schwab Foundation Profile
  4. TEDxAshokaU 2011, “Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Fair Trade on Campus”
  5. SF Gate, “Q&A with Fair Trade USA founder Paul Rice”
  6. LA Times, “Head of fair-trade certifier helps farmers”
  7. Fast Company, “Fair Trade USA’s CEO on Being a Better Social Entrepreneur”
  8. Entrepreneur Magazine, “Spotlight: Fair Trade USA’s Paul Rice, Entrepreneur of 2012 Finalist”