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

What is organic certification?

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.

What are the benefits of organic certification?

  • A good record of decreasing the negative environmental impacts of agricultural production such as soil degradation, GMOs, loss of biodiversity, overuse of agrochemicals and their release into the natural environment, or the leaching of nutrients into lakes, rivers, and groundwater
  • The avoidance of chemical pesticides and fertilizers contributes to an increased income for farmers, especially in developing countries

Still room for improvement

  • organic certification pays insufficient attention to the social aspects and processes that can lead to sustainable production systems and agricultural landscapes
  • the organic certification scheme is very costly and demanding for small and medium producers and producer organisations in developing countries, and can be hard to achieve without outside financial assistance
  • as it does not address the relationships within the existing agri-trade and distribution chains, economic benefits for producers and workers in developing countries remain largely unrealised.

Fairtrade Certification

The story of fair trade

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).

Why is the Fairtrade International system so widely respected?

  • it is transparent, credible and business-orientated
  • all kinds of stakeholders are represented among FI members – national labelling initiatives from Europe, North America, Australia and Asia as well as producer networks from Asia, Africa and Latin America
  • its focus on social, economic as well as environmental principles, and provision of effective tools to put these principles into practice

What could be improved?

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.

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There are only a few places where organic bananas can be grown