Distinguishing Committed Brands Through Major Eco-Social and Fair Trade Certifications

The following information is intended to help consumers, retailers, and businesses understand how well different fair trade and eco-social seals distinguish committed brands (that is brands that are committed to building a just economy in all policies and practices) from conventional brands (that is brands that offer some certified products or ingredients but in other supply chains and practices show a lack of commitment to fair trade principles).

Meets FWP’s expectations and/or is a model program in this area
Acceptable policy that at least meets current industry standards, but there is room for improvement
Problem area/red flag that needs immediate improvement

Overall Assessment

FWP overall assessment of how well program distinguishes “committed brands” (that is brands that are committed to creating a just economy in all policies and practices and through all supply chains)

Fairtrade America

Committed brands and small-scale producers are not distinguished in any meaningful way. However, because producers have more decision-making control in this system, it tends to benefit them more than some other seals and therefore be more attractive to some committed brands.

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Fair Trade USA

Committed brands and small-scale producer groups are not distinguished in any meaningful way and in fact it is a very real possibility that some brands offer only one or two products/ingredients that are “fair trade” and those are purchased from large-scale operations and no small-scale producer groups even benefit.

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Fair For Life (IMO)

Fair for Life is a program designed to support committed brands. At the farm level large-scale producers may qualify, but the program is designed primarily to support small-scale producers.

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Ecocert

Eco-cert is a program designed to support committed brands. The program prioritizes small-scale producers and has additional requirements for large-scale producers.

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UTZ Certified

Committed brands are not distinguished in a meaningful way and eligibility is not restricted to small-scale producers even in key sectors like coffee. Due to the program’s limited scope, committed brands are unlikely to chose Utz, particularly if they offer multi-ingredient products.

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Rainforest Alliance Certified

Committed brands and small-scale producer groups are not distinguished in any meaningful way and in fact it is a very real possibility that some brands offer only one or two products/ingredients that are certified and those are purchased from large-scale operations and no small-scale producer groups even benefit.

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Small Producers Symbol (SPP)

Though a small program, SPP is the only seal that is created by small-scale producers themselves and is used exclusively by committed brands. Seeing this seal on a product indicates that you have found both a committed brand and organized small-scale producers.

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Detailed questions covering key elements that inform our overall assessment

Is there a policy in place that restricts eligibility and would prevent a company with a history of labor, environmental, or other abuses and/or a company that operates largely in opposition to fair trade principles from participating in the program without first committing to good labor and environmental practices?

Fairtrade America

No

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Fair Trade USA

No

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Fair For Life (IMO)

Past history is not explicitly addressed, but all processors and handlers are required to have good environmental and labor practices currently.

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Ecocert

Yes. Eco-cert clearly states certification cannot be used to cover up unethical practices and criteria for eligibility includes absence of human rights abuses at all levels of company including parent company and subsidiaries.

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UTZ Certified

No

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Rainforest Alliance Certified

No

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Small Producers Symbol (SPP)

Past history is not explicitly addressed, though current and future actions are covered under a code of conduct and a significant commitment to small-scale producer co-ops is required which makes it difficult for large, “bad actor” multi-nationals and brands to participate.

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Is there a minimum percentage of a product or ingredient in its total product line that a brand needs to commit to before using the seal?

Fairtrade America

No

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Fair Trade USA

No

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Fair For Life (IMO)

Primary processors and handlers with over 10% FFL product must be registered and audited. Brands with less than 10% total product are not eligible for the use of the full seal.

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Ecocert

No

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UTZ Certified

No

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Rainforest Alliance Certified

No

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Small Producers Symbol (SPP)

Yes, 5% by end of second year with commitment to increase 5% each year to 25%.

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To what extent does the program verify that a company has fair practices and policies outside of certified supply chains?

Fairtrade America

The Trade Standard outlining company’s obligations for using seal only covers relationships within the certified supply chains.

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Fair Trade USA

The Trade Standard outlining company’s obligations for using seal only covers relationships within the certified supply chains.

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Fair For Life (IMO)

Fair for Life looks at the full supply chain for certified products as well as the treatment of employees for all brands and processors as well as farm. However there is no evaluation of non-certified ingredients supply chains.

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Ecocert

Brands must achieve social responsibility criteria as a pre-requisite to fair trade product certification. However, there is no evaluation of non-certified ingredients in supply chains.

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UTZ Certified

Utz only has programs for coffee, tea, and cocoa and does not look at any other supply chains or company practices.

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Rainforest Alliance Certified

Very limited. Ingredients deemed high risk in a product carrying a seal are evaluated and may require a sustainable sourcing plan if they are not certified. However, this only covers environmental risk for crops grown on tropical plantations, is not comprehensive, and and does not include social indicators.

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Small Producers Symbol (SPP)

All participants must sign a code of conduct committing to core principles like transparency and sustainability even outside the SPP framework. However, there is no evaluation of non-certified ingredients supply chains.

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Is certification restricted to small-scale organized producers?

Fairtrade America

It is restricted for some key products such as coffee and cocoa, but not for other products. Bananas, tea, and flowers in particular come almost exclusively from large-scale production. Farmers do control half of the votes in the general assembly and may have some ability to ensure small-scale farmers benefit from the program despite the general lack of eligibility restrictions.

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Fair Trade USA

No, FTUSA’s Fair Trade For All initiative specifically seeks to expand “fair trade” to large-scale agriculture and unorganized producers.

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Fair For Life (IMO)

No, but there are extra requirements for larger-scale producers including a requirement that they be committed to worker empowerment. Small-scale producers do not necessarily need to be democratically organized.

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Ecocert

No but there are additional eligibility criteria required if the producer is large or the producer group contains less than 60% small-scale producers by number or area. Small-scale producers do not necessarily need to be democratically organized.

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UTZ Certified

No

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Rainforest Alliance Certified

No

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Small Producers Symbol (SPP)

Yes, a clear definition for small-scale is given and only 15% of a co-ops farms can be larger, and those only twice as large as the definition.

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In what ways are committed brands distinguished from conventional brands in the market through this certification program?

Fairtrade America

There is no easy distinction. Because brands using this seal need to disclose the total percentage of ingredients in composite products, committed brands in general may be found to have in general higher percentages of ingredients in products and use the seal on more products, but by looking at a single product, there is no way to know whether the brand itself is committed to fair trade. In the US brands must use certified ingredients if they are available, but see note below on the global fair trade sourcing partnership.*

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Fair Trade USA

As with Fairtrade America, there is no clear distinction for committed brands by looking at a single product. To compound this problem, there is also no way to distinguish small-scale co-op producers from large estates or unorganized small-holders in coffee, despite the fact that expansion in this area was extremely controversial. FTUSA also no longer requires all available certified ingredients to be used in a product.

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Fair For Life (IMO)

Fair for Life is set up in such a way that only committed brands who meet basic social responsibility requirements can qualify.

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Ecocert

The use of this symbol would indicate a committed brand since eligibility is restricted by its eligibility criteria.

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UTZ Certified

There is no distinction. Committed brands, particularly those offering multi-ingredient products, are unlikely to choose Utz due to the limited scope of ingredients included in their program.

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Rainforest Alliance Certified

There is no distinction.

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Small Producers Symbol (SPP)

The use of this symbol would indicate a committed brand as a significant amount of product is purchased through this system and brands comply with a code of conduct.

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Which committed brands carry this seal on products?

Fairtrade America

Divine Chocolate, Equal Exchange

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Fair Trade USA

Alter Eco

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Fair For Life (IMO)

Equal Exchange, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Theo Chocolate, Alaffia, Guayaki, Canaan Fair Trade

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Ecocert

Not yet significant in North American market.

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UTZ Certified

Not yet significant in North American market.

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Rainforest Alliance Certified

None

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Small Producers Symbol (SPP)

Equal Exchange, Dean’s Beans, Just Coffee Co-op, Just Us Coffee Roasters, Discovery Organics, Santropol and Ethiquable (France)

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Which “bad actor” brands carry this seal on products?

Fairtrade America

Globally by Fairtrade International: Nestle, Dole, Green and Blacks (Kraft)

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Fair Trade USA

Honest Tea (Coca-Cola), Naked (Pepsi), Hershey

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Fair For Life (IMO)

None

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Ecocert

Not yet significant in North American market.

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UTZ Certified

Not yet significant in North American market.

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Rainforest Alliance Certified

Chiquita, Dagoba (Hershey), Hershey’s Bliss, Naked Juice (Pepsi)

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Small Producers Symbol (SPP)

None

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Why is this important?

Fair trade at its core is a movement centered on small-scale farmers and producers who are organized democratically. Fair trade markets should be reserved for these farmers; conversely larger scale farms already have an advantage in the marketplace if they are able to enter the fair trade system may cause unfair competition to small-scale farmers. (Note: many larger scale farms hire significant numbers of workers who would benefit from fair labor programs and incentives, though these programs typically look different than fair trade certification, which is understood to be a small-scale farmer movement.)

At the same time, many mission-driven companies and committed brands face higher costs than and steep competition from brands that are more focused on their bottom line. To allow these brands to thrive and ensure maximum benefit to farmers, it is important that certification programs give a market advantage to small-scale farmers and committed brands. As this analysis shows, a pound of coffee carrying a FTUSA or Rainforest Alliance seal purchased from a plantation by a company who also buys significant amounts of coffee on the conventional market looks identical to a pound of coffee carrying the same seal from a brand who only buys from small-scale farmers and is committed to fair trade principles in all aspects of business. This is likely why no committed coffee roasters use either of these seals.

*Fairtrade International recently introduced a new Fairtrade Sourcing Partnership program which would allow a seal, similar to the current fairtrade mark, to be used if 100% of either sugar or cocoa are included, even if no other ingredients are certified, and even if the sugar or cocoa account for less than 20% of the total product. Fair World Project has expressed serious concerns about this program and continues to monitor it. However, because Fairtrade America has committed to restrict participation in this program to off-pack claims it is not a focus of this analysis.

To learn more: Visit our committed brands page.

Updated: January 28, 2014 (Please note this information is up to date based on our own research using publicly available information as well as direct correspondence with programs. Any corrections or questions can be directed to [email protected])

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