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Minimum Fair Trade Content Standards for Multi-ingredient Products: FTRN Webinar Summarized

On February 28, FTRN produced Webinar 106: Minimum Fair Trade Content Standards for Multi-ingredient Products. The three panelists were David Bronner, President of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Mary Jo Cook, VP of Business Development and Marketing for Fair Trade USA and Rob Michalak, Director of Social Mission for Ben & Jerry’s.  You can download the 50-min recording, or register for upcoming webinars, at FTRN webinars.

David Bronner introduced the framework of the arguments put forth in the webinar.  He explained that the main difference in multi-ingredient product standards between the FLO/Fair Trade USA certification system and the IMO/Fair for Life certification system lies in how they label Fair Trade claims for multi-ingredient products.

There are two types of certification for Fair Trade products: “Whole Product Certification” and “Made with Fair Trade Ingredients Certification.”

“Whole Product Certification” means that the majority/all of the ingredients are Fair Trade.  If a product requires certain ingredients that are not commercially available as Fair Trade, then at least 50% of the total ingredients must be Fair Trade to receive this distinction.

“Made with Fair Trade Ingredients Certification” means that at least 20% of the product’s ingredients are Fair Trade.  Furthermore, all ingredients in the product that are commercially available as Fair Trade, do indeed come from Fair Trade sources.  Fair Trade USA makes an exception for cosmetic products, requiring that only 2-5% of the ingredients be Fair Trade.

Both FLO/Fair Trade USA and IMO/Fair for Life place their respective Fair Trade seals on “Whole Product Certified” products.  The two systems differ in that FLO/Fair Trade USA, places its seal on a “Made with Fair Trade Ingredients Certified” product and then lists the specific ingredient below the seal.  IMO/Fair for Life will not place its seal on this type of product but does allow for a written statement of “Made with Fair Trade (name of ingredient).”

Analyzing the impact of each of the two certifier’s use of the Fair Trade certified seal on “Made with Fair Trade Ingredients” products became the central theme of the discussion.

David Bronner:

“The fundamental problem [with the FLO/Fair Trade USA system of labeling] is…what incentive does this brand and company [that has a ‘Made with Fair Trade Ingredients Certified’ product] have to invest in making its main ingredient Fair Trade, when you can just fly the seal?  There’s none…[I]f you want to be recognized as a real Fair Trade brand and product, go develop a Fair Trade source of your [main ingredient], either domestically or abroad.

The seal needs to be reserved for companies that are committed to Fair Trade not for minimal commitment where you’re just buying little bits of pre-existing product/project? And your main ingredients may well be anti-Fair Trade…[On minority Fair Trade content products] just roll with the ‘Made with Fair Trade’ statement.  Which is great, honest and at point of sale…consumers understand it.”

Mary Jo Cook:

We’ve extended [the Fair Trade USA certification model] to Fair Trade ingredients.  Ingredients like cocoa, sugar and vanilla which can be sold as commodities, but are more likely to be ingredients in other products.  We did this by consulting with producers who told us unequivocally that they wanted more of their products to have more access to larger markets.”

Why would you want to penalize a producer and not let them sell on Fair Trade terms and label on Fair Trade terms while you’re waiting for other supply sources to become available?”

There are lots of groups and companies working to help improve the livelihoods of farmers and workers…The strength comes in figuring out how can we collectively make more people in the US understand the importance of Fair Trade…and look for Fair Trade products as opposed to overemphasizing the places where we may differ.”

Rob Michalak:

[Ben & Jerry’s is currently in a 3 year conversion plan for all available ingredients to be Fair Trade.]

“Our intention is to be actually very transparent and clear about what the Fair Trade ingredients are, what the make-up and percentage composition they are of the pint…Our perspective was it’s important to start getting the general consuming population to understand what the Fair Trade movement’s all about and what Fair Trade certification means.”

“We identified the FLO program as the one that was closest aligned [with our own values] and so that’s when we made the decision to go fully Fair Trade under the FLO program…the thing that was important to us was to get down to one concise communication piece…[The Fair Trade USA seal] communicates a sense of values quickly and we want to bring more and more meaning behind that.”

The important thing for us is to be able to communicate to consumers in a way that they can understand so that we can get more and more consumers buying Fair Trade products…We’d be open to any system that is a good, transparent, credible system…These kind of conversations are really important so that you get the different perspectives that can build a more critical and transparent system in the end.”

Access the full Webinar 106 recording.


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