You’ve probably come across this situation: When you go to the supermarket, you are determined to make a difference through your consumer behavior and therefore rely on certified products. It’s more expensive, but at the end, you can have a good conscience, which is included in the price. Unfortunately, well-meant is not always well done. The proportion of fair trade raw materials in an end product as well as the percentage of the profit which reaches the producers, always depends on the respective seal or label. A standardization of the labels would therefore be very desirable, but the market is far away from attaining it. To make it easier for you to get an overview, we have put together three basic guidelines for your next purchase:
Guideline 1: The difference between Seal, Label and Brand
Seals, also known as quality seals or certification marks, are intended to indicate the particular quality (such as social, or ecological properties of the product). This can, but does not have to, stand for independent control of products by third parties. There are no legal regulations for the use of seals, and therefore any seal can be invented and used to suit individual requirements.
The only label in the food industry for which a clear legal framework exists so far is the green organic label.
Another relatively well-known label in the food industry is the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) label, which is intended to identify fish and seafood from environmentally friendly fisheries.
The term label is a comprehensive term for word and / or graphic symbols that can be seen on products themselves or their packaging. They refer to a specific quality or service. In the food industry, there is a distinction between environmental, sustainability and regional labels. Some well-known labels, but not all of which have the same strict criteria, are various fair trade labels, GEPA, rainforest alliance or Naturland fair. Compliance with these standards is monitored and the supply chains are transparent.
Here you can download an overview of the labels and descriptions of their core themes.
Brands, trade marks and home brands are supposed to stand out against other companies and should also evoke a certain idea among consumers. Costumers need to rely on the promises of those companies, because they only go by self-imposed conditions. Their compliance is usually not controlled by a third party. Examples include organic or regional brands, and labels of large trading companies.
A detailed list of the individual labels and their evaluation can be found here.
Guideline 2: The 10 golden rules of fair trade
The terms “fair” or “fair trade” are not protected and unfortunately, as already mentioned above, there is no standardized certification. However, the European Fair-Trade Association (EFTA) and the international umbrella organizations of Fair Trade (World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) and Fairtrade International have developed ten common fair trade principles which represent an international framework for fair trade.
If you buy fair trade-certified products, you can be confident that fair trade:
- creates market access for deprived producers.
- maintains long-term, transparent and cooperative trade relations and excludes unfair intermediate trade.
- pays producers fair prices that cover their production and living costs and provide pre-financing on request.
- strengthens the position and rights of workers and small farmers and their organizations in the Global South.
- contributes to the professional qualification of producers and trading partners in the Global South
- ensures compliance with the eight ILO core labor standards during production.
- ensures the rights of children and promote equal rights for women.
- promotes environmental protection, e.g. in the form of conversions to organic farming.
- does education and political campaign work to ensure that world trade regulations are fairer
- ensures compliance with these criteria through verification and monitoring measures.
In other words, fair trade is an approach for a fairer world. However, there are also shortcomings in this approach, as well. In Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s most important cocoa-growing country, 58 percent of households in Fairtrade-certified cocoa cultivation earn so little income that they have fallen below the absolute poverty line. Despite the above mentioned universal and recognized principles of fair trade, all fair trade organizations and product seals of fair trade certifiers still have their own criteria. There are enormous differences, especially products that consist of various ingredients (the so-called mixed products) often only contain one ingredient from fair trade (e.g. chocolate: cocoa). Mono-products, on the other hand, i.e. products that consist of only one ingredient (such as coffee, tea or rice) must contain 100% fair ingredients. This means there are only minor differences between the individual fair trade players here.
Guideline 3: Product certifications vs. fair trade
The goal of fair trade is fairer trade structures. Consequently, disadvantaged farmers and plantation workers should be able to earn a living on their own and sustainably. However, even if a product is fair trade-certified, it has usually been produced in the consumer country – and thus almost all the profit stays in the Global North. Depending on the type of product, fair trade products often represent only a minimal financial advantage for producers. Fair chain takes the idea of fair trade to a whole new level: Raw materials are not processed abroad, but locally. This increases the value added in the countries of the raw-material suppliers. The idea of a fair value chain was originally formulated by Dutch entrepreneur Guido van Staveren van Dijk, founder of the coffee company Moyee. Unfortunately, there is no certification for fair chain yet, but companies that implement fair value chains usually communicate this comprehensively and transparently – as we do at fairafric. You can can be sure that you make a true difference with your consumer decisions – in a very pleasant way.