Comparison of Labeling Policies of Major Eco-Social and Fair Trade Certifications for Multi-ingredient Products

The following information is intended to help consumers, retailers, and businesses understand the differences in labeling policy among various fair trade and eco-social seals and what could be done to improve them.

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 Multi-Ingredient Labeling Policies

Fairtrade America

Fairtrade International, and its US labeling initiative Fairtrade America, represent the most established fair trade label and pioneered the idea that “all that can be fair trade should be,” meaning that products must contain as many certified ingredients as available. However, we would like to see the threshold for using a front panel seal to increase to at least 50% of ingredients certified; it is currently 20% for food products and an unacceptably low 2-5% for cosmetics and body care. In addition, exempting milk in calculating fair trade percentages is potentially misleading as it allows products that have milk (or milk product like ice cream) to be certified with a low percentage of certified ingredients.

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Fair Trade USA

FTUSA recently eliminated their policy that all that can be certified must be without enacting replacement policies to ensure no exploitation occurs in non-certified crops, for example sugar, which could now come from exploitive supply chains. As with Fairtrade America, we would like to see the threshold for using a front panel seal to increase to 50% certified ingredients over time. Currently Fair Trade USA has a threshold of 20% certified ingredients required for any product. Consumers should be cautious with products containing sugar since it is optional to include certified sugar, but can be assured that all products, including body care and cosmetics, have at least 20% total certified ingredients (excluding water).

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Fair For Life (IMO)

FFL has the strongest labeling policy overall, primarily due to their high threshold of certified ingredients required for use of a seal on the front panel and the fact that they are the first certifier to formally require a front panel percentage disclosure if less than 70% of the total ingredients are certified.

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Ecocert

Eco-cert has a similar policy to Fair Trade USA and could be improved by requiring that all ingredients available as fair trade be purchased as such and raising the threshold for use of seal on front panel.

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UTZ Certified

UTZ has the most complicated labeling system that is likely difficult for consumers to understand. They certify a limited number of products, each with its own labeling rules. Tea, for example, may have a label with a minimum of 30% certified content while coffee needs to be 90% certified. There is a two-label system for all products. For coffee, for example, if coffee is less than 60% of the total product, the word coffee must accompany the label. The full label without the content specification can be used only if coffee makes up more than 60% of the final product and 90% of that coffee is certified.

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Rainforest Alliance Certified

Rainforest Alliance has a relatively weak labeling policy as they allow their seal to be placed on a product, even if just a portion of one ingredient making up a small percentage of total product is certified.

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Small Producers Symbol (SPP)

SPP has a strong labeling policy. Not only do they require at least 50% ingredients to be certified, they promote purchasing from small-scale producer organizations for ingredients that are not certified and prioritize consumer clarity in labeling. However, their exclusion of “liquid vehicles” in calculating certified percentages may lead to low percentages of certified ingredients in certain products such as liquid dairy products.

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Detailed questions covering key elements that inform our overall assessment

Does the program require disclosure of the total percentage of certified ingredients in the final product? And is that percentage disclosure required to accompany the seal on the front of the product packaging?

Fairtrade America

Requires a disclosure, but only on the back.

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Fair Trade USA

Requires a disclosure, but only on the back. (Note: new requirement so licensees may have not yet implemented.)

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Fair For Life (IMO)

Requires a disclosure on back at minimum and on front if seal is used and total of all certified ingredients is less than 70%. (The percentage of total ingredients required to use seal is also higher than other programs.)

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Ecocert

Requires disclosure, but only on back.

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UTZ Certified

UTZ requires a percentage disclosure but only in limited situations such as a tea product with more than 30% certified ingredients but less than 90%. Only the percentage of tea that is certified must be disclosed (not the percentage that certified tea is of the total ingredients) and there is no requirement that it be on the front of the pack.

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Rainforest Alliance Certified

Requires a disclosure, but only for “core ingredients” and only on the back. (For example, if 50% of the coffee in a coffee drink is certified, and coffee makes up 1/3 of the drink that includes milk and sugar, the disclosure would be 30%, not 16%)

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Small Producers Symbol (SPP)

A percentage disclosure is required and it should be clear to consumers. However, the location is not specified.

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Rules for using seal on front of packaging.

Fairtrade America

For food, allowed to use seal on front if at least 20% of ingredients are certified. Liquid dairy is exempted from the calculation for food where dairy is more than 50% of final product. This means that the reported percentage of fair trade ingredients for a product like chocolate milk or ice cream is the percentage of certified ingredients added to the milk or ice cream. A statement on how the calculation is made does need to be included. For cosmetics, the all that can be rule applies, but the threshold for certified ingredients is just 2% for category 1 products (generally “leave on” products) or 5% for category 2 products (generally “wash off products”). Consumers should be especially cautious and check the percentage of certified ingredients for cosmetics, body care, and liquid-dairy based food products.

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Fair Trade USA

Allowed to use seal on front if at least 20% of ingredients are certified. For less than 100% certified ingredients, seal says “ingredient(s)” or lists specific ingredient. Only label to restrict full seal with no disclosure to products with 100% certified ingredients.

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Fair For Life (IMO)

Highest threshold for use of seal, requires 80% of agricultural products certified ingredients for front panel label, or for products with undeveloped ingredients 50% with a plan for achieving 80%. (For cosmetics, depending on formulation, in some cases only 50% of all ingredients excluding water must be certified.)

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Ecocert

Allowed to use seal on front if at least 20% of ingredients are certified. For less than 95% certified ingredients, a designation of “supply chain” and the specific certified ingredient(s) must accompany seal.

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UTZ Certified

Specific requirements are different for each ingredient UTZ certifies, but in general, if 90% of the key ingredient is certified and that ingredient is at least 60% of the final product, a full seal can be used. If 90% of the key ingredient is certified, but it makes up less than 60% of the final product, the certified ingredient must be identified rather than the full label used. The certified product should in general be a key ingredient of the final product, either a high percentage of total, or a key part of its identity (e.g. chocolate milk).

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Rainforest Alliance Certified

No minimum threshold for front package use, but a back panel disclosure statement is needed for any core ingredient under 90%.

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Small Producers Symbol (SPP)

In general, a product must contain 50% by dry weight certified ingredients. “Liquid vehicles” are excluded in the calculation. In some cases where the main ingredient is less than half the total weight, 25% certified ingredients may be required initially with a plan to bring total certified ingredients to 50% within two years.

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Requirement that all of a single ingredient be certified (i.e. all cocoa in a chocolate bar or all coffee in a coffee drink)

Fairtrade America

Yes

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Fair Trade USA

Yes

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Fair For Life (IMO)

Yes

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Ecocert

Yes

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UTZ Certified

No

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Rainforest Alliance Certified

No

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Small Producers Symbol (SPP)

Yes

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Requirement that all ingredients available as fair trade be sourced as fair trade (sometimes known as All That Can Be Must Be or Commercial Availability)

Fairtrade America

Yes

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Fair Trade USA

No – They currently only require tea, coffee, cocoa, and quinoa to be certified. They explain this in part as an attempt to clarify where exemptions can and cannot be made since typically even certifications that officially require all ingredients to be certified will offer exemptions to brands who cannot find a viable market source for specific ingredients. However, the policy means that in many multi-ingredient products, only one ingredient will need to be certified and major ingredients, like sugar, would not.

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Fair For Life (IMO)

Yes

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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

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Requirement that all certified ingredients be identified as such?

Fairtrade America

Yes – The certified ingredients must be identified along with a statement about the fair trade claim being made, where a consumer can go to learn more, and a statement clarifying whether the ingredients are physically traceable or not.

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Fair Trade USA

Yes

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Fair For Life (IMO)

Yes

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Ecocert

Yes

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UTZ Certified

Yes

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Rainforest Alliance Certified

Yes

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Small Producers Symbol (SPP)

Yes

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Any innovative policies or best practices?

Fairtrade America

None

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Fair Trade USA

Fair Trade USA is the only fair trade certifier to have a single multi-ingredient policy for both food and body care/cosmetics rather than allowing a lower threshold for certified ingredients in body care/cosmetics.

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Fair For Life (IMO)

Only label to require at least 50% of ingredients to be certified for front panel seal

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Ecocert

In France only, a designation accompanies seal to specify whether majority of ingredients come from Global South or Global North

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UTZ Certified

None

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Rainforest Alliance Certified

“High risk” ingredients such as palm oil must have sustainable sourcing plan even if not certified

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Small Producers Symbol (SPP)

If an ingredient is not available in a certified form, it should still be purchased from a small producer organization. An exemption must be sought if an ingredient is not available from a small producer organization.

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Posted policies (Where you can learn more and view full labeling policies)

Fairtrade America

DOWNLOAD PDF


Fair Trade USA

LEARN MORE


Fair For Life (IMO)

DOWNLOAD PDF


Ecocert

DOWNLOAD PDF


UTZ Certified

LEARN MORE


Rainforest Alliance Certified

LEARN MORE


Small Producers Symbol (SPP)

DOWNLOAD PDF

Why is this important?

Labeling policies are how programs communicate to consumers. Especially for multi-ingredient, or composite products, the policies of a program can either help a consumer make an informed choice or mislead them. Independent research has confirmed that a fair trade or eco-social seal with the absence of sufficient descriptive information (such as a disclosure of the percentage ingredients that are actually certified) leads consumers to believe the majority of the product is certified even if it is not, and when they realize it is not they feel deceived. Fair World Project (FWP) advocates first for labeling policies of fair trade and eco-social labels to be clear and honest. The best policies will also:

  • Deliver the maximum benefit to farmers/producer by requiring or rewarding brands that use the highest percentage of fair and eco-social ingredients possible while prohibiting any ingredients that exploit producers in that supply chain even if not all ingredients are certified to the highest possible standard.
  • Require that the majority of ingredients in a product be certified before approving a front-panel seal.
  • Disclose the percentage of actual ingredients certified in a product in conjunction with the seal. FWP has joined several committed brands in asking all certification programs listed here to implement this policy in response to the research cited above.

Updated: October 29th, 2015 (Please note this chart 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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