Fair Trade USA: Draft policy changes no hoax

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Fair trade Fair trade usa

Cocoa must come from a certified source for a chocolate confectionery to be carry a Fair Trade USA logo, but the sugar does not - unlike Fairtrade International rules. Photo Credit: WCF
Cocoa must come from a certified source for a chocolate confectionery to be carry a Fair Trade USA logo, but the sugar does not - unlike Fairtrade International rules. Photo Credit: WCF
Fair Trade USA claims that draft changes to its labeling policy allowing brands with 20% certified ingredients to carry its logo are justified in composite products like chocolate because components like sugar are mainly sourced domestically in the US and cannot be Fair Trade.

Last month​, not-for-profit organization Fair World Project called draft changes to Fair Trade USA's labeling policy a ‘hoax’ because brands would no longer be obligated to use all fair trade ingredients that are available from a certified source.

Jenna Larson, Fair Trade USA communications manager, told ConfectioneryNews.com: “Given that Fair Trade currently focuses on products imported from developing countries, many products can only reach approximately 20% in their Fair Trade content because most of their ingredients (like milk or flour) are produced domestically.

“For example, in a brownie, the cocoa and sugar can be Fair Trade Certified, but the flour cannot….Also, according to the USDA, sugar grown in the United States meets about 70-75% of domestic demand, so much of the sugar consumed here is not eligible for Fair Trade certification.”

Draft consultation and different labels

She said that Fair Trade USA periodically reviews its policies and in December 2012 it consulted 30 representatives including farmer groups, traders, brands, retailers, consumers, NGOs like the Fair World Project to propose a draft policy.

The draft changes mean that products containing over 20% of Fair Trade ingredients may carry a ‘Fair Trade Certified Ingredients’ label, but only those with 100% certified ingredients can use a label that says ‘Fair Trade Certified’.

“We are the only Fair Trade certifier that has a differentiated logo for 100% Fair Trade vs. composite products,” ​said Larson.

Fair Trade USA certified ingreds
Brands sourcing 100% certified ingredients may use the Fair Trade USA label (right). Brands sourcing below 100% but above 20% can carry the label (left)

Fairtrade International

Fairtrade International, a separate organization from Fair Trade USA, also has a 20% threshold. However, if a certified ingredient is available it must be used even if supply usually comes domestically from non-certified sources.

“US companies do need to source Fairtrade sugar for all products labeled with the Fairtrade Mark, without exception,”​ said Reykia Fick, media relations manager for Fairtrade International.

However, Fairtrade International does operate a “mass balance” policy for sugar, which means that a company must source the full volume of sugar from Fairtrade certified producers for the brand that will be certified.

This may mean the firm also uses non-Fairtrade sugar for uncertified brands which become mixed with certified sugar.

“Therefore we do not guarantee that all the sugar in a Fairtrade Mark-labeled product is physically sourced from a Fairtrade farm,” ​said Fick.

Fairtrade Intentional food composite products can use the Fairtrade Certification Mark on the front of packaging, but the percentage of Fairtrade certified ingredients must be displayed on the back of pack, unless these requirements contradict national law.

Fair Trade USA

Fair Trade USA strongly recommends that companies label the percentage of Fair Trade ingredients, but companies are not compelled.

It requires coffee, tea and cocoa to be always be Fair Trade, but not ingredients like sugar that are mainly sourced domestically.

The organization is currently considering feedback on its draft policy after a month-long public comment period that concludes this week.

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1 comment

Misleading justifications

Posted by Kerstin Lindgren,

Fair Trade USA has yet to provide a credible argument for their refusal to implement a basic level of transparency in its labeling policy.

The problem with a 20% threshold of certified ingredients with no accompanying disclosure of actual threshold or requirement that all ingredients commonly associated with fair trade be certified is not that composite products include domestic ingredients, it is that there is no standards or auditing for the other 80% and therefore no guarantee that a major ingredient, like sugar, is not purchased under exploitive conditions (either domestically or internationally).

This argument that companies are buying domestic sugar and that is why their policy is changing is both new and misleading. As stated in the article, Fair World Project was consulted as Fair Trade USA worked on this new policy. The exact wording of the option that was proposed was, “Businesses determine which ingredients will be Fair Trade except for commodities that are high profile, coffee/cocoa/tea, which must always be Fair Trade. After they determine which ingredients will be Fair Trade, they receive a label based on labeling policy.”

This was a question about business choice, not domestic sourcing. If Fair Trade USA would like to have a conversation about whether in the context of the United States specifically sugar may be considered an ingredient that is typically sourced domestically rather than one that is commonly associated with fair trade, we should have that discussion with broad stakeholder input. It should not be unilaterally decided as a justification for an otherwise deceptive and detrimental labeling policy that ultimately misleads consumers and undermines brands that are sourcing all or most ingredients from marginalized smallholder famers under fair trade terms.

Kerstin Lindgren
Campaign Direct, Fair World Project

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