OAKLAND, Calif. — A consumer advocacy group whose criticism prompted Fair Trade USA to revise its multiple ingredient policy, is encouraged by a new draft policy but says there is room for improvement. “By and large I think it’s a positive step but I hope [FTUSA] can incorporate some of the changes we’re requesting,” said Ryan Zinn, campaign director of the Organic Consumer Association’s Fair World Project.
FTUSA announced revisions to its multiple ingredients policy earlier this month after considering feedback from stakeholders. It’s collecting public comment through March 16 and will release a finalized version soon after. The draft policy reserves use of the Fair Trade Certified label for items with 100% fair trade certified contents, and outlines requirements for a Fair Trade Certified Ingredients label.
To bear the Fair Trade Ingredient seal, products must meet these requirements:
- 100% of the ingredient commonly associated with a product must be fair trade certified. So in the case of a chocolate bar, 100% fair trade certified cocoa must be used.
- For any individual fair trade certified ingredient used in the product, 100% of that ingredient must be certified. If a product contains fair trade certified vanilla extract, for example, all of the vanilla extract must be fair trade certified.
- The product must contain at least 20% fair trade certified content in total, and all ingredients that can be fair trade certified, must be fair trade certified if the ingredient is commercially available.
The draft policy replaces an earlier one that would have, in some cases, granted use of the full Fair Trade Certified label to products with at least 25% fair trade ingredients, even if they also contained conventional components for which fair trade alternatives were commercially available.
A review was brought on by Fair World Project, which said that unless FTUSA reversed its proposed labeling standards, it would no longer recognize the non-profit as a reputable fair trade certifier.
Zinn acknowledged that the new policy addresses a majority of Fair World Project’s previous “demands”, but expressed concerns about the revised version.
The first involves the Fair Trade Ingredients label as is presently conceived. Fair World Project believes that it is misleading since it conveys to consumers that the product is at least majority fair trade.
The group is asking that FTUSA confine the seal to the back of the package or require specific fair trade ingredients be highlighted on the front of packaging with a “Made With Fair Trade Sugar” statement, for instance. Alternatively, a front of pack “Contains Fair Trade Ingredients,” label could be used.
“The wording is important because it makes it very clear to the consumer that she or he is not buying 100% fair trade product,” noted Zinn.
Fair World Project is also critical of a 2-year transition period for licensees who are currently using ingredients in non-fair trade form for which there are commercial fair trade sources available, to begin using the fair trade forms. The group thinks that one-year is sufficient to source these ingredients and update packaging.
Further, it seeks greater transparency as it relates to companies that may receive an exemption for fair trade ingredients that are not commercially available. It recommends that FTUSA post requests for exemptions on its website and include the rationale and timeframe for any exemptions granted.
“If a company requests an exemption because they can’t find or develop a fair trade ingredient yet they still want to maintain their fair trade status, they can simply say ‘we can’t find this type of sugar but we’re looking for it,’” said Zinn. “Then we can see that FTUSA is giving them 12 months, or what have you, to develop that supply chain or source that ingredient.”
Pending the outcome of the draft policy, Fair World Project will reconsider recognizing FTUSA as a valid certifier. In the meantime, Zinn remains optimistic.
“I was feeling down in the dumps with the way fair trade was developing, but my hope now is to see a race to the top where certifiers will look to distinguish themselves with high bar standards,” he said.