‘Room for improvement’ on Fair Trade USA labeling policy, says NGO

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Fair Trade USA finalizes labeling policy after six-month consultation
Fair Trade USA finalizes labeling policy after six-month consultation

Related tags Fair trade Fairtrade certification Fair trade usa

Fair Trade USA has finalized its labeling policy after over six months of consultation. NGO Fair World Project supports some of the changes but feels the policy does not go far enough to combat exploitative sugar sourcing.

The rules continue to allow brands to use either a “Fair Trade Certified” logo when sourcing 100% certified ingredients or a “Fair Trade Ingredient(s)”​ logo when using over 20% fair trade ingredients for a product.  

But now the lesser ‘Ingredients’ label requires, which previously required all possible fair trade ingredients to come from a certified source, now requires only ”commercially available ingredients that are sourced predominately from the Global South”​ to come from a fair trade source. It specifies cocoa, coffee, tea (Camellia Sinensis), and quinoa, but makes no mention of sugar or vanilla.

NGO on sugarless policy

Kerstin Lindgren, campaign director of Fair World Project, told ConfectioneryNews: “Fair Trade USA’s published final multi-ingredient policy does contain many elements that are better than the draft policy circulated in the spring, though still leaves much room for improvement. “

She said that although she expected the “Global South”​ ingredients provision to include vanilla, the omission of sugar could leave farmers at risk of exploitation.

“Since there is no requirement that sugar is sourced either domestically or through fair trade supply chains, it is also essential that FTUSA evaluates their new policy after a reasonable time to see how it is impacting farmers of all commodities.”

Other certificates such as Fairtrade International, which doesn’t have a separate ingredients label, requires all ingredients that could possibly come from a fair trade source to be certified, including sugar.

Fair Trade USA certified ingreds
Fair Trade USA this week settled on the terms of two labels chocolate manufacturers can use on certified products. It will allow brands sourcing 100% certified ingredients to use a 'Fair Trade Certified' logo, but it also has a separate “Fair Trade Ingredient(s)” label for brands sourcing below 100% but above 20%.

Domestic sugar sourcing

Fair Trade USA has previously said​ that sourcing all possible ingredients as fair trade had deterred many companies from doing any fair trade at all. Today its communications director, Jenna Larson, sought to justify the omission of sugar.

“Today around 70% of the sugar used in the US is grown in the US, so it does not currently meet the sourcing criteria.

“Fair Trade USA remains deeply committed to sugar farmers and workers in the global south, and we will continue to encourage brands to source Fair Trade sugar in new and existing products whenever possible.”

Percentage declaration welcomed

One policy change welcomed by NGO Fair World Project has been the requirement to indicate the percentage of Fair Trade Certified content (by dry-weight) on the packaging.

Earlier fair trade labeling research by Lake Research Partners, which featured the views of 1,003 US adults, found that the 85% were in favor of a percentage declaration on the 'Fair Trade Ingredients' label that would help them make better choices.

FTUSA’s policy guidelines say that the percentage declaration can be made either below the logo on the front of the pack or near the ingredients panel on the back.

Brand owners are also encouraged to list the main Fair Trade Ingredient on the logo – e.g. Fair Trade Certified Cocoa – but can use the term ‘Fair Trade Ingredient’ if preferred.

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1 comment

The Fair Trade USA 'sugar exemption' policy is a step backwards

Posted by Rodney North, Equal Exchange,

This latest news from Fair Trade USA is another step away from the original version of Fair Trade, and another move designed to accommodate the supply chain preferences of large brands who’ll be glad that the road to using a Fair Trade logo just got easier, even if that logo is as a result also proportionately that much less meaningful. Moreover this ‘sugar exception’ policy is, of course, not going to help rectify what’s wrong with the national or global sugar trade.

Let’s look at Fair Trade’s history. When the Fair Trade concept was first being applied to agricultural in the 1980’s one key problem was that small coffee farmers lacked _market access_. Due to an international regime of coffee export and import quotas only well connected elites in countries like Mexico and Brazil possessed the necessary permits to export coffee. They regularly exploited their market position to buy coffee cheap from small farmers. So, among other goals, the Fair Trade movement sought to create a path around these market obstacles – to create supply chains that actually worked for small farmers. It did not, and has not, accepted the status quo when it failed small farmers.

As Confectionery News readers know the US sugar market, and much of the global sugar market, is similarly distorted today. In particular high trade barriers demanded by the US sugar lobby have long denied the vast majority small sugar farmers outside the US any serious chance to compete in our market. So when Fair Trade USA’s ingredient policy focuses on items currently “sourced predominately from the Global South” they are simply taken as a given that small sugar farmers are blocked from the US market and are not using their unique opportunity to advocate for those farmers and try to create fair market access for them. (By the way, with this policy Fair Trade USA is also failing to advocate for the workers on large sugar plantations outside the US, who are also penalized by US sugar policy, but that’s another story.)

Additionally, one needs to remember that there are now multiple Fair Trade certifications on the US market (Fair Trade America fairtradeamerica.org, the SPP www.tusimbolo.org , & IMO www.FairforLife.org ) none of which allow such a sugar exemption. Therefore with this new policy Fair Trade USA is not only abdicating their responsibilities to small sugar growers in the Global South, they could be creating a race-to-the-bottom certification dynamic that siphons off business from these other Fair Trade seals that are trying to do that right thing.

(For the record, we at Equal Exchange started importing Fair Trade sugar in 2002 for our hot cocoa mix, and have used organic Fair Trade sugar from small farmer co-ops ever since for our growing line of Fair Trade chocolates and cocoa products. )

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