Posted on December 4, 2019 by Sustainable Food News

Corporate trend of ethical labels continues ‘to sow confusion,’ says report

Int'l guide to fair trade labels slams Fair Trade USA over premiums policy, lack of workers' representation

Sustainable food labels and agriculture development initiatives “that lack transparency and are less demanding in terms of criteria are spreading,” and weakening the principles of fair trade, according to the fifth edition of the International Guide to Fair Trade Labels.

The 124-page publication, which analyzes the criteria and monitoring systems of the world’s main fair trade labels and aims to spell out the differences between the most common fair trade labels, is published by a global coalition of advocacy groups and academics led by Commerce Équitable France, that country’s trade group for the fair trade sector.

The guide said Oakland, Calif.-based Fair Trade USA (FTUSA) has “a relatively weak threshold for the use of the label, requiring just 20 percent of certified ingredients for the use of a front panel seal, which is comparable to the low threshold of Fairtrade International [FLO].”

The guide also said FTUSA’s policy “on how premiums are to be used is problematic.”

“The purpose of a premium was for it to be used by the collective organization to build sustainable communities. However, this is not the case with FTUSA premium criteria which states it can be used for cash payments to individuals, payment of certification fees and investment by the owner of a medium or large farm,” the guide said.

The guide cited FTUSA’s certification of Fyffe’s melon subsidiary in Honduras, “which was known for labor abuses for decades.”

“…even with ILO convention complaints and U.S. Labor Department complaints, [FTUSA] still certified it in 2018. In late 2018, civil society pressured them to decertify. Problems like this occur due to a lack of workers’ representation on the ground and in the governance structure of FTUSA.”

The guide also provides analysis of some of the more prominent corporate social responsibility initiatives and the labels they have created, including Starbucks’ C.A.F.E. Practices, Mondelez’ CocoaLife, and general sustainability labels such as Rainforest Alliance.

“We’re seeing a growing trend of companies creating their own ethical labels and continuing to sow confusion in the marketplace,” said Anna Canning, campaign manager at nonprofit Fair World Project (FWP), which contributed to the guide. “This guide highlights the difference between weaker corporate-led standards and those that have strong stakeholder processes and are led by the farmers and workers they are intended to benefit. Labeling fatigue and confusion benefits those corporations, but there are tools available for people to match their purchasing decisions to their values.”

FWP also recently updated its own reference guide to fair trade consumer-facing labels – a single page showing the pros and cons of the most common fair trade and labor justice certifications.

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