Fair Trade certification allows us to know that a certain product has been made respecting justice, so that when we buy it we can be confident of producing a positive impact on the world! ... but let's be more specific...
The first certificate, Max Havelaar label, was created in 1987 by a dutch NGO to differentiate a brand of coffee that was produced by small-scale and impoverished growers in Mexico. The purpose was to earmark that coffee so that it would be recognized everywhere, be it sold at a World Shop or not.
Some other labels appeared later on and in 1997 several of them gathered to form FLO (Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International), which now oversees the certification of several Fair Trade products: coffee, fruits, tea...
|Fair Trade sugar. Photo by Andy|
So long for the products. There is also a second class of Fair Trade certification: that for organizations; the most common are those done by IFAT in Europe and Fair Trade Federation in the U.S.A.. Alternative Trade Organizations certified by these two certifiers can sell by themselves a large variety of products which do not necessarily carry any certification label. Usually, crafts and clothes don't.
FLO develops and keeps the criteria to be met by a specific product, including the minimum price to be paid. A separate but related entity, FLO-CERT is the one who actually assesses the compliance with that criteria and awards the label.
To get certified, interested organizations apply to FLO-CERT. Then, it all starts with an on-site inspection, which is done by FLO-CERT trained auditors. They gather the evidence and send a report to the office, where another team decides about the Fair Trade certification.
A small co-operative can be inspected in a week; larger ones may require more than a month. After the initial audit, producer organizations must be reviewed annually.
Contrary to products, the certification criteria for organizations themselves are much less specific and focus more on values and behaviors. These assessments can be done by peer reviews.
The creation of the FLO label allowed to spot a fairtrade pack of coffee out of the rest in any supermarket shelf. Retailers started to sell Fair Trade certified coffee. Whether this move was made out of social concern or just to gain a competitive edge, it was the boom for Fairtrade business. Before this, only Alternative Trade Organizations sold Fair Trade items, either in their own World Shops or at any charity event. As a result of this move, some 1.4 million person in 57 countries can benefit from Fair Trade... as they are able to escape from free trade.
By now I am sure you are already familiar with that nice person who raises an arm under a blue sky, over a green meadow, against a black background . However, it is good to know some more labels that exist out there. You can catch a glimpse here.
As mentioned before, there are some labels for products and some other Fair Trade certifications for organizations; they are not to be shown on products but to be used in business letters, posters, etc.
After the coffee success, other commodities have been certified: flowers, fresh fruits, orange juice... Everything seemed to run more or less smoothly until bananas appeared on stage. For a number of reasons (product perishability, retailers market practices) there was a moment when large transnationals started to play a role. This caused a stir among some Fair Trade followers, who felt mockered. Something similar happened with chocolate.
The case is that producers are assessed for transparency and democracy; organizations, for long-term commitment to producers and promoting Fair Trade. But large companies can tarnish their names displaying certified foods with no need for any transparency or commitment. This should be reviewed in the future.
There are also some concerns about whether mere "local labor law compliance" is enough for any organization to be taken as a Fair trader, only for that. Labor regulations at impoverished countries can be far from enough to secure a decent living, not to mention the cases when labor inspectors can be bribed by powerful companies. If you are interested in knowing what you buy (and if you are reading this, you probably are), I recommend that you make some brief research on the trader activities, so as to support those ones who really care about their producers.
Fair Trade awareness has been raised through years of campaigns by NGOs, who have spent large amounts of money to create events, pre-finance producers, promote lots of items... This people has gained a legitimacy that must be honored.
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