Transparency for Consumers on Eco-Social Labels
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Contributing Writer
David Bronner

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps has been battling the systemic “fairwashing” that various certifiers and their licensees have been engaging in, as far as using front-panel “Fair Trade” seals on products with minor fair trade content.

In 2013, we helped bring fair trade leaders, including Whole Foods Market, Fair World Project and six leading eco-social certifiers (Fairtrade International, Fair Trade USA, IMO, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ and Ecocert), together to see if they would be able to voluntarily commit to the following criteria:

  • Disclosure of the percentage of certified content in lettering in a minimum font size (to be determined), directly underneath any certification seal that appears on the front panel. The percentage to be disclosed would be calculated exclusive of water and salt, and could include the word “Certified” immediately following (for example, “37% Certified”).
  • The front-panel percentage disclosure would be required, unless at least 70% of the content of the entire product is certified.
  • Regarding volume credit for conventional cocoa and sugar, “made with” or “contains” are misleading; so, as an option, a simple declaration would be something like “Certified Fair Trade/Eco-Social Cocoa” in the text.
  • To calculate the percentage of certified content in bottled coffee and tea beverages, the dried coffee or tea weight before extraction would be counted. (It would still be pretty insignificant versus sugar, and if certified fair trade sugar is not used, then the certified content of just the tea or coffee could be as little as 10%.)
  • An optional separate “Made with Fair Trade/Eco-Social [specified ingredients]” could appear elsewhere on the front panel of the package.
  • If no seal appears on the front panel, a back-panel disclosure of percentage would be sufficient, under or next to the eco-social seal, if present. (If there is no seal, then the percentage disclosure would not be required.)
  • All   certified ingredients would have to be specified in the ingredients declaration.

In addition, there are other pressing problems to address in eco-social certification systems. Establishing a minimum “best practice” fair trade content percentage is the first step towards a more comprehensive baseline standard.

This front-panel transparency would serve to distinguish products on the shelf with more versus less fair trade content, and would allow ethical consumers to more easily purchase products from brands that are fully committed to fair trade, rather than from those with lesser commitment.

For details about how transparent the six major eco-social certifiers are in their multi-ingredient labeling policies, visit Fair World Project’s “Eco-Social and Fair Trade Certifier Analysis” at: www.fairworldproject.org/overview/certifier-analysis/.

While we are hopeful that the six major eco-social certifiers will make this move voluntarily, we are also exploring options that will compel them to do so, if that does not happen. Fair trade is about transparency, and we must take action to proactively minimize consumer deception.

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