About Fair Trade Certification
Certification is an interesting topic. Many people like the idea of having a third-party, non-profit organization objectively assess a business and their products, and putting a label of approval on them. Still, some have issues with the whole idea of certification, or with the certifying agencies themselves.
NOTE: Fair Trade Federation and the World Fair Trade Organization are NOT certifying agencies. Members display their logos, but this is only so customers know that they are approved Fair Trade companies, but it doesn’t guarantee that the products are 100% fair trade.
The certification agencies you will more than likely come across are TransFair USA and FLO-CERT GmbH. TransFair USA is the only certifying agency of Fair Trade products in North America. They certify coffee, chocolate, tea and other produce, as well as finished products such as ice cream, energy drinks, canned juice, etc. FLO-CERT works with FLO International in Europe, and is an independent International Certification Company offering Fairtrade Certification services to people in more than 70 countries.
Benefits of Certification
Having a product certified usually guarantees that it was fairly traded and that your company is committed to Fair Trade. This takes a huge load off the customers’ shoulders, since they can trust the label and no longer have to research your company or product. They can simply identify the Fair Trade Certified label and trust that their purchase in line with the Fair Trade values.
Certification also differentiates your products, giving them a competitive advantage over conventionally-traded products. While many companies are spending millions of dollars to build a brand and making customers crave it, Fair Trade Certification is a collective effort that makes it affordable for small famers/producers, wholesalers and retailers brand themselves as ethical and responsible. The idea is that in order to participate in “free trade”, small producers, wholesalers and retailers can take advantage of certification when they don’t have the resources huge corporations have for branding.
Certification also helps create standards. The very idea of Fair Trade is debated all the time. What is Fair Trade? How do we know a company is responsible? Certification agencies, born from Fair Trade organizations, provide a standard and help the industry move forward. They are flexible and open to ideas, so when people challenge them they will usually work with everyone to keep the certifying practices up to date and aligned with the newest ideas of the Fair Trade movement.
Label Penetration according to BBMG
BBMG is a marketing organization focusing on conscious consumers. These are some findings they have had:
This is their analysis of this data.
Criticism and Controversies of Certification
As mentioned earlier, Fair Trade is open for debate, both from supporters and critics. This is why many people have issues with certification. While the benefits of certification outweigh the criticism, it is important to know the entire impact of your decision to certify your products.
One criticism is that many small farmers or producers do not have the resources to get certified. It costs money to be a part of TransFair USA or FLO International, or even to be associated with the Fair Trade Federation or the World Fair Trade Organization (not certifiers). Therefore, some believe that people who cannot afford certification are excluded from the movement and are hurt by not having the Fair Trade labels. Moreover, some businesses cannot afford to change their practices to become sustainable, and therefore don’t qualify to be a part of a Fair Trade organization or have their products certified. This also excludes them from being identified as ethical, therefore hurting the business. HOWEVER, many Fair Trade companies and organizations are constantly helping small producers and farmers, or even small businesses, to improve their practices and become members of a Fair Trade organization, or have their products certified.
Another controversy is that some fair traders believe that certifying agencies can be lenient on huge corporations such as Starbucks. They believe that the certifiers want to grow, or want the industry to grow, and therefore rush big companies into their membership. While this is a mutually beneficial move, smaller companies feel it is not fair to give special treatment to huge companies. HOWEVER, there is no evidence to suggest that special treatment happens in the first place. These are issues that certifying agencies try to solve with all the players in the Fair Trade industry.