Fair Trade USA Releases Draft Farm Worker Standard

November 2, 2011 No Comments Standard Dan Bolton


Fair Trade USA this week revealed its draft Farm Workers Standard for those employed on large-scale farms.

The organization, which has announced it will part ways with European-based Fairtrade (FI) over FI’s labor policy, also responded to critics of its proposal that manufacturers can certify products with as little as 25 percent Fair Trade ingredients.


Historically the Fair Trade system has included farm workers and large scale farms in categories such as tea, sugar and cacao, explains Stacy Geagan Wagner, director of marketing and public relations for Oakland, Calif.-based Fair Trade USA. The draft policy “extends the benefits of Fair Trade in a more judicious fashion across more product categories including coffee,” she says, adding that “serving entrenched interests perpetuates an inequality.”

“We need to hear all voices in the public comment period. Farm workers need a voice, too,” says Geagan Wagner.

The comment period extends through Dec. 31. Comments can be posted to the or emailed to standards@FairTradeUSA.org. Click here to download a copy. A final version is schedule for publication Feb. 15, 2012. Reviews will follow at five-year intervals.

The  is based on a pilot study begun in 2010 on the feasibility of certifying coffee estates. Fairtrade forbids the practice, insisting only coffee produced by worker-controlled cooperatives qualify. FTUSA’s decision to permit coffee estates certify is controversial and has been resisted by Fairtrade’s network of worker cooperatives.

Tea importers and wholesalers expressed frustration at the fact many will have to comply with both Fair Trade USA and Fairtrade certifications but did not object to labor provisions. Fairtrade and Fair Trade USA both certify tea plantations and large estates.

The new strategy accommodates two levels of certification. Fair Trade USA certifies about 19 whole categories such as oils and nuts. It does not certify flour, grains, milk and butter. Whole products such as fruit, sugar, coffee and cacao, once certified, display the Fair Trade label.

Products that contain a combination 25 percent or more Fair Trade certified ingredients also display the Fair Trade Certified® seal. Products with a combination of 10 to 25 percent Fair Trade USA certified ingredients generally display a “Fair Trade Certified Ingredients” label. Products with less than 10 percent of Fair Trade certified ingredients by weight do not qualify to use the label.

Critics say these guidelines discourage manufacturers from striving for 100 percent Fair Trade ingredients and encourage abuse. As a result, Fair World Project, a campaign originated by the Organic Consumers Association, threatened to no longer recognize FTUSA certified products as fair trade.

In a blog posting Oct. 11, the Fair World Project described how “Hershey’s, a perennial target for shirking corporate responsibility and fair trade, could place the FTUSA mark on their chocolate bars with no certified fair trade cocoa. For example, Hershey’s could source only fair trade sugar for their chocolate bar, but not fair trade cocoa, and still carry the FTUSA mark.”

Geagan Wagner responded: “We hear you and we are going to do a full review of this policy. We want to make sure the policy maximizes impact for producers.”

The intent is to encourage manufacturers to commit to fair trade and grow the number of Fair Trade ingredients over time, she says. “The fair trade supply chain is limited and 95 percent of our partner companies are small businesses,” she explained. In many instances a product, such as a cookie, is primarily composed of ingredients like flour, milk and eggs that do not qualify for Fair Trade certification.

The FTUSA threshold of 25 percent exceeds Fairtrade’s 20 percent requirement. Fairtrade frequently grants exceptions to manufacturers of multi-ingredient products if they demonstrate certain ingredients are not commercially available. Fair Trade USA will do the same in a review process that will be transparent, she says. Otherwise there would be very few certified multi-ingredient products.

The scarcity of certified ingredients is common to all certifiers of complex foods. IMO certification requires that 50 percent of ingredients are IMO Certified. The Rainforest Alliance certifies coffee if it contains at least 30 percent RA certified beans. To carry the FTUSA seal coffee must be 100 percent Fair Trade Certified, she says.

The goal is to expand the Fair Trade’s impact by recognizing the effort companies are making to include Fair Trade ingredients. “Many companies today that use Fair Trade ingredients don’t label it. This limits the Fair Trade impact to a handful of famers. Labeling it Fair Trade increases awareness and sales, she says, “We want long-term sustainable impact.”

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