How Fairtrade differs from other labels

As you look through the products at a store, you will often encounter a variety of labels, certifications and company claims on the packaging. This can be confusing: what do all the different labels mean, and can we really trust certification schemes? Some consumers even express a sense of ‘label fatigue’ from the complexity of comparing all the claims behind the labels.

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A woman votes to choose a Fairtrade Premium project.
Image © Mieneke Eilander

While Fairtrade doesn’t cover every concern or product imaginable, we take a holistic approach to foster long-term trading partnerships that yield sustainable and decent livelihoods for the farmers and workers behind many popular products. Fairtrade sets social, economic and environmental standards that progressively raise the bar in various sectors. We promote sustainable production, with farmers and workers at the heart of our model.

All this has helped to make the FAIRTRADE Mark the most widely recognized ethical certification label globally, according to 2015 research by GlobeScan.

We’re serious about standards

The Fairtrade Standards are the backbone of our approach. They include a range of economic, environmental and social criteria that must be met by producers and traders in order to acquire or retain Fairtrade certification. These include:

Economic criteria include the Fairtrade Minimum Price which aims to provide producers with a safety net against falling prices and allow long-term planning, along with a fixed Fairtrade Premium that provides farmers and workers with additional money to invest in improving the quality of their businesses and communities.

Fairtrade also emphasizes long-term trading partnerships and requires buyers to provide pre-financing to producers who request it, opening access to capital to help stabilize their operations.

Environmental criteria emphasize ecologically and agriculturally sound practices, including responsible water and waste management, preserving biodiversity and soil fertility, and minimal use of pesticides and agrochemicals. Fairtrade prohibits the use of several hazardous materials and all genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Fairtrade does not require organic certification, but organic production is promoted and rewarded by higher Fairtrade Minimum Prices for organically grown products.

Social criteria for small-scale producers include requirements on democratic self-organization (typically in cooperatives), participatory decision-making, transparency, and non-discrimination (including gender equity).

In plantation-type settings where hired labour is the norm, our standards require companies to operate with non-discriminatory employment practices, pay rates equal to or higher than the legal or regional minimum wages, freedom of association and collective bargaining rights for the workforce, safeguards for worker safety and health, and facilities to allow workers to manage the Fairtrade Premium.

Forced labour and child labour are prohibited under the Fairtrade Standards.

Products carrying the FAIRTRADE Marks have been certified against the criteria in the Fairtrade Standards. If the criteria are not met, a producer organization can face suspension until remedial action can be undertaken and verified, or ultimately be decertified.

Fairtrade also has a Trader Standard aimed at ensuring that businesses buying products from Fairtrade producers treat these suppliers fairly.

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A child at a school constructed with Fairtrade Premium funds.
Image © Chris Terry

Investing in childrens' futures

The extra Premium funds that Fairtrade generates for farmers and workers can have lasting impacts.

The Sukambizi Association, a Fairtrade tea farmer group in Malawi, decided to invest some of its Fairtrade Premium in essential services for children – including 12 school blocks in different villages.

Before these schools were built, many parents were reluctant to send their youngest kids on long walks to distant schools, leading to high absenteeism.

'Without Fairtrade’s help, many children wouldn’t be motivated to attend school, something which would affect their future lives considerably,' says Eddie, headmaster at one of the new schools.

The Sukambizi Association also used Fairtrade Premium money to support the construction of a maternity wing (saving expectant mothers from a 40km journey), the purchase of an ambulance, and the extension of clean-water systems to over 4000 families.