NGO questions Fair Trade USA chocolate labeling ‘hoax’

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Fair trade Fair trade usa

Are thresholds too low for products to carry the Fairtrade USA seal on the pack?
Are thresholds too low for products to carry the Fairtrade USA seal on the pack?
Not-for-profit organization Fair World Project has criticized changes to Fair Trade USA's labeling policy, which allows chocolate to carry the seal when it contains a high percentage of other ingredients like sugar that are not fairly traded.

“Fair Trade USA is electing to maintain its subpar threshold of just 20% fair trade contents to use a front panel label on a product with no requirement to list the percentage of fair trade ingredients,”​ said the organization.

20% threshold too low?

The rules changes also mean brands are no longer required to use all fair trade ingredients that are available from a fair trade certified source and dairy has also been excluded from calculations.

“Together these policies mean that a milk chocolate bar that contains more of both sugar and milk than chocolate, with chocolate as little as a third of total dry weight, could still have a fair trade label on the front of the bar,” ​said Fair World Project in a statement.

It said other fair trade certifiers such as IMO's Fair for Life had a minimum 50% threshold or required firms to list the percentage of fair trade ingredients.

Fair Trade USA is a separate entity to Fairtrade International, which uses a different product labeling system.

 NGO confronts Hershey

The NGO said the rule changes came soon after Hershey had announced that it would use Fair Trade USA as a future certifier.

Jeff Beckman, head of corporate communications for Hershey, told this site: “As we move to sourcing 100 percent third-party certified cocoa for all of our chocolate products around the world, we will source certified cocoa from a number of certifiers. “

The company announced in October last year that it would source only 100% certified cocoa by 2020.

Currently only two Hershey brands, Hershey’s Bliss and Dagoba, are certified and carry the Rainforest Alliance certification seal.

Labeling hoax?

Fair World Project argued that Hershey had made no commitment to source other fairly traded ingredients like sugar, a big component of many of its products.

“Because Hershey spends less on cheap sugar produced under exploitative labor conditions, the Hershey's 30% fair trade chocolate bar will be less expensive than a chocolate bar made with fair trade vanilla, sugar, and other fair trade ingredients in addition to fair trade cocoa.

“This fair trade hoax takes advantage of consumers' intentions to buy fair trade products, creates unfair competition for the fully committed fair trade brands who use a maximum of fair trade ingredients in order to have a fair trade seal, and most importantly harms the farmers and farmer co-ops that supply truly fair trade brands with fair trade ingredients,”


Should a chocolate bar with 20% ingredients from certified sources be able to carry the Fairtade seal?

  • Yes

  • No, 50% would be fairer with a requirement to label the percentage of non-certified ingredients

  • No, all ingredients should be certified


Beckman said: “We will continue to engage with our stakeholders on important sustainability issues to give consumers confidence that Hershey products are responsibly sourced and of the highest quality.”

The NGO said that unless Fair Trade USA increased its threshold to 50% and required firms to label the percentage of non-certified ingredients it would be misleading consumers and greenwashing the fair trade market.

UPDATE - Fair Trade USA has since confirmed its new rules are currently draft changes. The organization argues that some ingredients like sugar are mainly sourced domestically in the US making it difficult to source purely Fair Trade ingredients. Brands that source less than 100% can still carry the organization's logo, but it uses a 'Fair Trade Certified Ingredients' logo rather than one that says 'Fair Trade Certified'. See here​ for more details.

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1 comment

This is not a hoax.

Posted by Daniel,

I recognize that many within the fair trade community are upset by this, and there are plenty of good reasons to take issue with Fair Trade USA's increasing focus on mainstream, high-volume brands, but I think calling it a 'hoax' is unfair and misleading on the part of FWP. FTUSA issues labels that specifically say "Fair Trade Certified INGREDIENT" or INGREDIENTS, distinct from the label used on single-ingredient or 100% FTC products (such as those pictured in this article). And nobody within fair trade offers certified dairy products yet, so if we're talking about a milk chocolate bar, a 100% fair trade version doesn't exist anywhere, no matter who certifies. While it would be fantastic to get a big player like Hershey's to commit to 100% certification of all certifiable ingredients, the commitment Hershey has made is to Fair Trade Certified cocoa, an undeniably important first step and one that presumably will dramatically increase revenues for the small-farmer co-ops that produce it (the same ones, as far as I know, that supply members of the FLO system, which I believe has always applied the same 20% rule that FTUSA uses for chocolate). Fair trade certified sugar is in limited supply and sometimes prohibitively expensive for American companies working at large volumes because of the U.S. tariff regime. People looking for specialty chocolate with an interest in fair trade should certainly seek out 100% products, and will pay the premium. But people who want a fancy candy bar are not going to start buying Hershey's just because it's cheaper, whatever it gets labeled with. People who might not even be aware of Fair Trade cocoa but are already buying Hershey's, however, are going to have a more positive impact than they would otherwise. Seems totally defensible to me.

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