We believe that some certification systems have brought significant benefits to small producers. However it is far harder to identify the benefits for workers of such systems, which often fail to effectively support the work of independent trade unions.
The proper enforcement of national and international legislation are always preferable to these voluntary standards. In the words of the General Secretary of the ITUC (the International Trade Union Confederation), Sharon Burrow, ‘Private standards must not become a substitute for public policy established through democratic and representative political processes.’
Organic certification is a third-party certification and labelling scheme, which covers all aspects of agricultural production and packaging, animal welfare, wildlife conservation, and prohibits unnecessary and harmful food additives in organic processed products. Any product sold as ‘organic’ must comply with strict rules set at national, European and international levels. The process of certification and audits is carried out by independent certifying companies.
Before the introduction of the label, Fair Trade supply chains were organised in chains of fully committed organisations. In order to expand and enter the mainstream market via conventional companies who are not 100% dedicated Fair Trade Organisations, the need arose for standards and an independent way of verifying the claims of traders and producers regarding the conditions of production. That is why in 1988 the Dutch-based development charity Solidaridad introduced the Max Havelaar labelling and certification scheme, initially for coffee. Similar initiatives then followed in other European countries and in North America. During the late 1990s, formerly independent standard-setting and certifying organisations came together to form Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO) and the common Fairtrade mark was introduced. In 2012, FLO changed its name to Fairtrade International (FI).
The generic Fairtrade standards and standards for specific products are set by FI, whereas the Fairtrade certification system is run by FLOCERT Ltd. (a company owned by FI) in co-operation with auditors and inspectors from around the world. Fairtrade standards are designed to address the imbalance of power in trading relationships, unstable markets and the injustice of conventional trade. Hence, Fairtrade standards apply to producers and their trading partners (traders).
The Fairtrade International system has the edge in working with small-producers organisations (mostly co-operatives and unions of co-operatives). Nevertheless, Fairtrade International has recently been the target of public criticism in Europe and Latin America for not addressing the issue of trade union freedom on some certified plantations in Latin America. Fairtrade International’s Hired Labour Standard was revised in 2014 to strengthen the right of workers to freely organise and collectively bargain and give workers more control over how to spend the Fairtrade premium. Fairtrade International is also introducing a new methodology to set living wage benchmarks and a clear process.