Certifications that strive to incentivize producers to care for their employees and the planet can become confusing to consumers who want to support these efforts. Such as the case for Certified Fair Trade, many certification organizations may exist for one specific certification. These organizations may have different criteria to qualify and maintain their certification with varying levels of authenticity. Consumers’ confusion is exacerbated by all of the different labels associated with these different organizations and their levels of certification. What labels should consumers look out for when they want to purchase a Fair Trade Certified product? Why does it matter? And what does it even mean for a product to be Fair Trade Certified?
What does it mean?
Simple Switch has partnered with a handful of Fair Trade Certified companies, SutiSana, Chic Made Consciously, Catalyst Collections, World For Good, and Azizi Life, but what does it mean for a company or product to have this certification? To be Fair Trade Certified means that a product meets the rigorous guidelines and follows the requirements of that particular certification. The idea behind Fair Trade certification is to help people around the world make a living by financially benefiting producers and strengthening communities. To get certified, it can take between 6-9 months for a producer to achieve Fair Trade Certified status. In addition to going through this process, an audit is done every year. There are numerous Fair Trade certification organizations across the globe, all with varying credibility, standards, and labels. Two highly recognized organizations are the International Fair Trade Labeling Organization (FLO) and the Institute for Market Ecology (IMO).
Headquartered in Bonn, Germany, FLO is the oldest and best-recognized Fair Trade certifier. During the certification process, an independent FLO-Cert affiliate inspects and certifies producers and processors in developing countries against FLO standards. FLO has two different degrees of certification, “whole product” and “fair trade lite”. For both certifications, fair trade (FT) ingredients must be used unless not commercially available. A minimum of 50% of the product must contain FT content for the “whole product” certification. For the “made with single/some FT ingredients” certification, a minimum of 20% of the product must contain FT content. It should be noted that the “fair trade lite” logo looks exactly like the “whole product” logo and can be placed in the same position on the front label.
The IMO operates in 90 countries worldwide and has its headquarters in Weinfelden, Switzerland. The IMO released a more universally applicable FT alternative to the FLO system in 2006: the Fair for Life FT program. Similarly to FLO, IMO requires that FT certified ingredients must be used if commercially available, including those certified under other programs. IMO’s “whole product” FT certification requires that a minimum of 50% FT content is used in the product. This seal is shown only on the front label of “whole product” FT products. For the “made with single/some FT ingredients” certification, the IMO mirrors FLO in certification standards, except the IMO seal may only appear on the back of “fair trade lite” products.
Targeted mostly for women, Nest is a similar organization that sets standards for artisans across the globe who work out of their homes. With an estimated 60% of craft-based work occurring outside of the factory walls, this type of work is the second largest employer of women in developing economies and has been historically underinvested in. Nest helps women receive the proper value of their capitally undervalued products. This organization is a great way to more specifically support these female artisans so that they can continue to empower their own lives and contribute to a sustainable economy that values ethical working conditions. Their label of a bird sitting in a hand assures consumers that their product was ethically made in a home or small workshop.
Why does it matter?
Favoring certified FT products over their conventional counterparts matters because they are more environmentally and socially responsible. The premium cost of these certified products is added to the producers’ pay and trickled down the producers’ wages, if applicable. Additionally, FT producers are required to open a bank account that serves as the “Premium Fund” which goes towards a community project that is agreed upon by the Fair Trade committee, a mix of Fair Trade representatives and employees of the producer. This fund has created such programs as giving every employee a bicycle, building a nursery school near the workplace, employee health insurance, gasoline vouchers, health and sanitation kits, subsidized food, rebuilding homes after a natural disaster, and even providing a kids summer camp. Fair Trade products help to empower the lives of people who have been historically exploited in the workplace. There have been some issues with these organizations in the past, but FLO and IMO are actively adapting their programs to limit the chances of producers taking personal advantage of the certification. Additionally, wider awareness of these certifications and their practices have kept these organizations honest as consumers have requested greater transparency with their criteria and certification process.
Ultimately, FT certification organizations, and other organizations who incentivize the ethical treatment of the world’s historically exploited producers, make it easy for consumers to be socially responsible.