Fair trade certification

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A fair trade certification is a product certification within the market-based movement fair trade. The most widely used fair trade certification is FLO International's, the International Fairtrade Certification Mark, used in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. Fair Trade Certified Mark is the North American equivalent of the International Fairtrade Certification Mark. As of January 2011, there were more than 1,000 companies certified by FLO International's certification and a further 1,000 or so certified by other ethical and fairtrade certification schemes around the world.[1]

The Fairtrade International certification system covers a wide range of products, including banana, coffee, cocoa, cotton, cane sugar, flowers and plants, honey, dried fruit, fruit juices, herbs, spices, tea, nuts, and vegetables.[2]


In 2009, fair trade coffee was sufficiently mainstream that Walmart, the world's largest retailer, began selling it and pricing it about the same as regular products.[3]

The Fairtrade and Fairmined dual certification for gold was launched across the United Kingdom on 14 February 2011[4] as a joint scheme between The Fairtrade Foundation and The Association for Responsible Mining.

The global market[edit]

Between the late 1980s and the mid-1990s, multiple national initiatives following[clarification needed] a fair trade system coexisted within Europe, the US, Canada, and Japan.[5] In 1997, 17 national initiatives joined forces to create a single international umbrella organisation called the Fair Trade Organization (FLO). FLO is based in Bonn, Germany, and is the largest organisation of its kind.[5] FLO also has branches and field workers in Africa, Central and South America, and China. The international fair trade label was introduced in 2002 to improve visibility for consumers.

Marketing fair trade[edit]

A key part of the fair trade initiative is to inform consumers through innovative marketing. Such marketing must create a value proposition for the initiative that encompasses the ethical side as well as the quality of the product.[5]

Fairtrade inspection and certification[edit]

In 2006, a Financial Times journalist found that all ten out of the ten mills they visited had sold uncertified coffee to co-operatives as certified. It reported "evidence of at least one coffee association that received Fairtrade certification despite illegally growing some 20 per cent of its coffee in protected national forest land.[6]

Certification costs and returns[edit]

Certified organizations such as cooperatives have to pay FLO-CERT a fee to become certified and a further annual fee for audit and continued certification.[7] The first year certification fee per unit sold as "Fairtrade certified" varies but has been over ¢6/lb (¢13/kg) with an annual fee of ¢3/lb (¢6.6/kg) to ¢3.4/lb (¢7.5/kg) for coffee up to 2006 in some countries, at a time when the "Fairtrade premium" was ¢5 to ¢10/lb (¢11 to ¢22/kg).[8]

How it works[edit]

Fair trade is a strategy for poverty alleviation and sustainable development. It aims to create greater equity in the international trading system. It creates social and economic opportunities through trading partnerships with marginalised farmers and craftspeople in developing countries so that more customers are accessible to their products and they receive a favorable deal.[9] In return, the producers must comply with the standards set by the certifying authority.

Packers in developed countries pay a fee to the Fairtrade organisation for the right to use the Fairtrade certification logo. Importers of Fairtrade certified products must pay exporters a price higher than the market price for non-Fairtrade certified products, to cover additional costs borne by Fairtrade certified firms in marketing and inspection. Any surplus after paying these costs must be used for local[clarification needed] social, environmental, and economic projects.[10]

Fairtrade Standards[edit]

A T-shirt made from Fairtrade certified cotton

Fairtrade Standards aid the sustainable development of some smaller producers and agricultural workers in third world countries. In order to become certified Fairtrade producers, the cooperatives and their farmers have to comply with standards set by Fairtrade International.[11] FLO-CERT inspects and certifies producer organizations in more than 70 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

The standards set for different stakeholders are as follows:

Small Producer Organizations[edit]

  • The majority of the members of the organization must be small-scale producers who do not highly depend on hired workers, but run their farms mainly by their own effort.[12]
  • Profits earned must be equally distributed among the producers.
  • Every member in the organisation should have the right to vote in the decision-making process.

Hired Labour[edit]

  • Workers have the right to join an independent union to collectively bargain their working conditions.[13]
  • No forced or child labour
  • Working conditions have to be equitable for all workers. Salaries must be at least equal to or higher than the minimum wage in effect.
  • Safety and health measures must be implemented properly so as to avoid injuries at work.

Trade Standards[edit]

  • Pay a price higher than the Fairtrade Minimum Price in order to cover the costs of sustainable production.
  • Pay an additional amount of money that allows producers to invest in development (the Fairtrade Premium).
  • Sign contracts that assist long-term planning and sustainable production practices.

Fairtrade Pricing[edit]

The Fairtrade system consists of two types of pricing: the Minimum Price and the Premium. These are paid to the exporters according to the proportion of output companies are able to sell with the brand 'Fairtrade Certified', typically ranging from 17% to 60% of their turnover.

  • The Fairtrade Minimum Price is the price that must be paid by buyers to Fairtrade Certified producers. It is a floor price that covers producers' average cost of production, protecting producers from selling their products underpriced.[14]
  • The Fairtrade Premium is a sum of money which is paid[clarification needed] in addition to the payment for the products. It must be invested in the producers' business, livelihood, and the socio-economic development of the workers. The producers have the largest power deciding how these funds are to be spent.[15]

How fairtrade measures its impact[edit]

The Fairtrade system committed to a programme of Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL), which aims at generating recommendations and analysis in support of greater effectiveness and impact. Ongoing market progress[clarification needed] is monitored by market-facing organizations present in countries where Fairtrade certified products are sold; market data is consolidated by Fairtrade International on an annual basis. These data form a basis for understanding the dynamics of how certification is developing, and how the impacts of Fairtrade are being distributed between producer organizations, geographies and products.[16]

Fairtrade's governance bodies also review key results and evaluate regularly in order to improve strategy and decision-making. These results are publicised within the Fairtrade system and among relevant stakeholders for further discussion of findings and recommendations.


Little money reaches the farmers[edit]

The Fairtrade Foundation does not monitor how much of the premium paid to exporters reaches farmers. As the cooperatives incur heavy fees on inspection, certification, and marketing, only a small amount of money is retained for the farmers.[17] In general, Fairtrade producers are only able to sell 18% to 37% of their output as Fairtrade certified, while the rest is sold as uncertified at market prices.

Fairtrade helps the rich to a larger extent[edit]

Fair Trade is profitable for traders in rich countries rather than those in poor countries. In order to qualify as Fairtrade producers, cooperatives must meet the strict standards set by certifiers, which implies that their constituent farmers must be quite skillful and educated. However, these farmers are predominantly from the poorest countries and lack the leverage to bargain with the cooperatives. Corruption even occurs in some cases.[18]

Inefficient marketing system[edit]

Fairtrade certified products sold through a monopsonist cooperative may be inefficient and prone to corruption. Fairtrade farmers should have the right to choose the buyer who offers the best price, or switch when their cooperatives are going bankrupt.[19] A monopsonist cooperative in charge of Fairtrade certification may try to grow the fair trade industry for profit and not so much for the lives of the small farmers. At this point[may be outdated as of March 2022] they are trying to increase the supply of fair trade when the supply is already far beyond the demand.[20]

Other certification and product labelings[edit]


  1. ^ List of Companies certified to FLO International's fairtrade certification
  2. ^ Elliot, K. (2012). "Is my Fair Trade coffee really fair? Trends and Challenges in Fair Trade certification." Center for Global Development, Policy Paper, pp. 17.
  3. ^ Holahan, Catherine; Trebilcock, Bob (May 17, 2011). "What to Buy at Walmart". CBS Money Watch. Archived from the original on May 7, 2012.
  4. ^ Carter, Kate (14 February 2011). "Fairtrade hallmark sets the gold standard". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 December 2012.
  5. ^ a b c Nicholls, Alex; Opal, Charlotte (2005). "Fairtrade certification". Fair trade: Market-driven ethical consumption. London: Sage. p. 128. ISBN 1-4129-0105-7.
  6. ^ Weitzman, Hal (9 September 2006). "The bitter cost of 'fair trade' coffee". The Financial Times Ltd. Financial Times. Retrieved 18 January 2018. An emerging criticism of Fairtrade within the industry is that the organisation misleads consumers about its ability to monitor production practices. FLO Cert, a body officially independent of FLO, monitors the certification process. Critics say there is a need for an outside auditor. ‘The way Fairtrade promotes itself is a little irresponsible,’ says Mr Watts. ‘The certifiers need an external watchdog.’
  7. ^ "Producer certification fees". FLO CERT Gmbh. 2013. Archived from the original on January 29, 2013. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
  8. ^ de Janvry, A.; McIntosh, C.; Sadoulet, E. (2010). "Fair Trade and Free Entry: The Dissipation of Producer Benefits in a Disequilibrium Market" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on May 5, 2011. Retrieved December 24, 2012.
  9. ^ Fairtradefederation.org, (2014). Fair Trade Federation: What is Fair Trade?. (Accessed 19 Oct. 2014).
  10. ^ Info.fairtrade.net, (2014). Fairtrade Info / Home / What is Fairtrade? / How Fairtrade Works. Available at: Archived 2014-10-31 at the Wayback Machine (Accessed 24 Oct. 2014).
  11. ^ Fairtrade.net, (2014). Fairtrade International / Standards / Aims of Fairtrade standards. (Accessed 25 Oct. 2014)
  12. ^ "Fairtrade Standard for Small Producer Organizations." (2005). Bonn, Germany: Fairtrade International, pp. 7.
  13. ^ Strong Producers, Strong Future. (2014). Bonn, Germany: Fairtrade International, pp. 8.
  14. ^ Fairtrade.net, (2014). Fairtrade International / About / What is Fairtrade? (Accessed 26 Oct. 2014)
  15. ^ "Fairtrade Minimum Price And Fairtrade Premium Table." (2014). Bonn, Germany: Fairtrade International, pp. 3.
  16. ^ Fairtrade.org.uk, (2014). How Fairtrade monitors and measures impact (Accessed 24 Oct. 2014)
  17. ^ The Globe and Mail, (2014). "Fairtrade coffee fails to help the poor, British report finds." (Accessed 27 Oct. 2014)
  18. ^ Sylla, N. (2014). "Fairtrade is an unjust movement that serves the rich" The Guardian (Accessed 26 Oct. 2014)
  19. ^ Mendoza, R., & J. Bastiaensen, J. (2003). "Fair Trade and the Coffee Crisis in the Nicaraguan Segovias." Small Enterprise Development, 14(2), pp. 42
  20. ^ Cole, N. L., & Brown, K. (2014). "The Problem with Fair Trade Coffee." Contexts, 13(1), pp. 50–55. https://doi.org/10.1177/1536504214522009
  21. ^ Conroy, Michael (2007). Branded! p. 252
  22. ^ "Fair's Fair at Whole Foods" The Motley Fool, April 2, 2007.

External links[edit]