Fair Trade Organizations and Certifying Agencies
There are many organizations dedicated to the promotion of fair trade and its values around the world. In North America, the leading organizations are the Fair Trade Federation (FTF), TransFair USA, and the Fair Trade Resource Network, among others.
Internationally, the World Fair Trade Organization (formerly known as IFAT) and FLO International are widely known.
The following list has a description of the different organizations and what they specialize in. Some specialize in educating the public or providing materials so individuals can promote fair trade, while others are trade associations that bring different businesses together. While organizations can display the logos of organizations like FTF or WFTO, these logos don’t mean that each product that they carry are certified fair trade.
On the other hand, there are only 2 certifying agencies in this list: TransFair USA in the United States, and FLO-CERT in Europe. They actually audit each individual company and can certify individual products as fairly traded.
|Fair Trade Federation||The Fair Trade Federation (FTF) is the trade association that strengthens and promotes North American organizations fully committed to fair trade. The Federation is part of the global fair trade movement, building equitable and sustainable trading partnerships and creating opportunities to alleviate poverty.|
|TransFair USA||TransFair USA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is one of twenty members of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO), and the only third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States. They audit transactions between US companies offering Fair Trade Certified™ products and the international suppliers from whom they source.|
|Fair Trade Resource Network||Founded in 1999, the Fair Trade Resource Network (FTRN) seeks to build a more just and sustainable world by gathering, developing, and disseminating educational resources about Fair Trade. FTRN is the only non-profit organization in the world focused exclusively on Fair Trade education, helping people to better understand the impact of their buying decisions.|
|Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International||Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) is a non-profit, multi-stakeholder association involving 23 member organizations (Labelling Initiatives and Producer Networks), traders and external experts. The organization develops and reviews Fairtrade standards and provides support to Fairtrade Certified Producers by assisting them in gaining and maintaining Fairtrade certification and capitalizing on market opportunities.|
|World Fair Trade Organization (formerly IFAT)||The World Fair Trade Organization (formerly the International Fair Trade Association) is a global association created in 1989 of Fair trade producer cooperatives and associations, export marketing companies, importers, retailers, national, and regional fair trade networks and fair trade support organizations. In 2004 WFTO launched the FTO Mark which identifies registered Fair Trade Organizations (as opposed to the FLO system, which labels products).|
|Global Exchange||Global Exchange is an advocacy group and non-governmental organization, based in San Francisco, California. It was founded in 1988, and funds itself through memberships. Its stated aim is to promote human rights and social, economic, and environmental justice around the world. It has worked to increase public awareness of what it feels are the root causes of injustice, while also building international partnerships.|
|Project Hope and Fairness||A charitable organization dedicated to making the cocoa trade fair, and offering aid to African farmers for promoting sustainability.|
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 businesses, 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.
In this section, we will expose the benefits of certification and the controversies as well.
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.
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.