Today, we are more aware than ever of ecolabels– those little symbols on food packaging that signify something “good” about that product. With so many logos, marks, seals and stamps out there, it can be confusing for a shopper, let alone a business, to choose what is best.
Who or what benefits from Fairtrade certification?
The short answer is farmers, their communities and the planet.
Fairtrade exists to rebalance the terms and conditions and trade for producers in developing countries. We’ve all seen the images of crushing poverty on television or our social media feed. And while there are many complicated factors contributing to this, one issue is the fact that many companies in countries such as the USA and Canada have so much buying power that they can drive down the price of goods like coffee, sugar and cocoa to unsustainable levels. Small-holder farmers in Latin America, Africa and Asia Pacific (who often live in remote, isolated regions) are at the mercy of the market swings of Wall Street, who care more about corporate profits than people’s lives or the environment.
Through a set of rigorous standards, Fairtrade hopes to drive more money and benefits to these farmers and workers as well as support their communities and protect their local environment. We do this by tools such as:
Everyone knows going it alone is much harder than working with your neighbors. Fairtrade farmers and workers must organize together, usually in the form of a cooperative, to share the load and the benefits. Producer organizations do everything from distribute income through to providing training to their members on how to go organic. Strength in numbers, as we like to think!
The Fairtrade Minimum Price
This is a floor price that is only triggered when the market price dips below unsustainable levels. By having a Minimum Price, farmers know that the, say, sugar cane they grown will not be sold at less than it costs to produce.
The Fairtrade Premium
This is an extra sum paid on top of the price. The Fairtrade Premiums earned goes into a pot that is then spent based on the decisions of the producer organization. Farmers and workers choose to spend their Fairtrade Premium on anything from purchasing new farming equipment to building wells for fresh water to paying for school fees for the village children. This is true democracy in action! In fact many cooperatives find that women have an increased voice in the community since they get to vote on how this money is spent.
Fairtrade has set a high bar and we’re often considered the gold standard in the sustainability world. Not only do we look at how to improve the lives of the farmers who grow the food we love, but we also consider the needs of their wider communities and the environment. For instance, Fairtrade standards ban the use of GMO seeds as well as certain pesticides that are known to harm to people and planet. Fairtrade funds producer-led projects that combat the effects of climate change and look for new ways to keep ecosystems thriving.
Why get Fairtrade certified?
So, if the above benefits sound good to you, that’s great! We think they’re pretty darn groovy as well. But, if you’re a business, you might want a few more reasons why Fairtrade certification is a good move for your company.
Shoppers want it
Well, for one, shoppers are caring more and more about who makes and what’s in the things they buy. The fact that shoppers are willing to pay up to 10% more for a Fairtrade certified product is a telling indication that people want to vote with their dollars. According to our research, about one third of shoppers in the USA look for Fairtrade products – and that number is rising every year.
Supply chain support
There are a number of issues in sourcing products from all over the world. Maybe its child or forced labor, maybe it’s the fact that many tropical crops are suffering from climate-related blight, or maybe it’s just that you want to make sure that you know where everything you buy comes from. Fairtrade can help with all of that. Fairtrade works with producers through our on-the-ground networks around the world to provide locally-based solutions to some of their most pressing issues. This means that they can continue to operate in a sustainable way and that businesses in North America can buy goods they can trust. For example, we recently took a chocolate company to four of their cocoa cooperatives in the Ivory Coast. By having traceability in their Fairtrade supply chains, they could meet (and thank!) the people that make their delicious chocolate possible.
Reaching CSR goals
Many organizations have Corporate Social Responsibility (or CSR) goals that they want to reach. Maybe they want to use 100% renewable energy sources or recycle 75% of their materials. Fairtrade can help reach some of these tough goals set by companies or by the United Nations as part of the SDGs or Sustainable Development Goals. In fact, the World Wildlife Fund and the ISEAL Alliance recently cited Fairtrade amongst other certifications as being critical to cleaning up brands’ supply chains to help them work towards alleviating poverty and reducing CO2 emissions on a global scale.
How does a business become Fairtrade certified?
So, all that being said, what does a business actually DO to become Fairtrade certified? Well, it’s important to note that Fairtrade only certifies products, not whole businesses. Therefore, we talk with the companies about what they’re sourcing and from where. We make sure that they’re using Fairtrade certified farms and paying the correct amounts to farmers and workers. We also, through our auditing arm, conduct audits to make sure that Fairtrade certified products are kept separate from non-Fairtrade certified products. If a company meets all our standards, they are able to use the FAIRTADE Mark on their packaging to show to their customers that they’re committed to people and the planet.
What can I do?
If you’ve gotten this far, you’re clearly already a very ethically-minded person! Keep checking sources and labels of the products you choose to make sure that they meet your standards. Buy local, organic and Fairtrade where you can. You can also ask your grocery store to stock certified products. There are many Fairtrade products available on the market, but not all of them make it to the shelf because a store isn’t sure if they’ll sell or not. Show them that they will!