More and more companies are being licenced to use one or other of a range of ethical marks or seals on some of their products. It’s easy to be confused about the difference between different ‘ethical’ brands.
The Fairtrade Mark and the Rainforest Alliance Seal are both designed to encourage better practice in farming in developing countries and to drive forward positive change in the world. As full members of the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling (ISEAL) Alliance, both Fairtrade and the Rainforest Alliance operate according to the requirements for good practice in international standards setting and accreditation, and follow best practice for verification. Both brands involve companies in ethical trade supporting improvement in the rights of people and the planet but tackle the problems in different ways.
The following brief descriptions of each brand are designed to help you make more informed choices about what you buy in shops and cafés.
‘Cadburys announces the intention to obtain Fairtrade certification for the Dairy Milk range of chocolate’
‘Mars has revealed plans to gain approval for the use of the Rainforest Alliance Seal on more products’.
• Fairtrade is an international brand that helps to alleviate poverty and support sustainable development. It is designed to create opportunities for producers and workers in developing countries who have been economically disadvantaged or marginalized by the conventional ‘free-trade’ system.
• Fairtrade is organised internationally by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation - FLO (also known as Fairtrade International) with input from producers around the world and from more than 20 national Fairtrade organisations. FLO is funded in part by grants from the UN, EU and development agencies of governments, and by non-governmental organisations involved in development.
• Producer organisations, typically small farmers organised in co-operatives, are inspected by a separate organisation, FLO Cert, using procedures that are independently verified. This ensures that Fairtrade standards set by FLO have been met. These include sustainability, decent working conditions, democracy in the workplace and respect for the environment. FLO Cert also monitors traders and companies to ensure that trading guarantees are met.
• Central to Fairtrade is the payment of guaranteed minimum prices (or the market prices when they are higher) to producers to ensure they have sustainable livelihoods. A social premium equal to a small percentage of the Fairtrade price is paid to a local producers’ organisation to fund local projects. These have included setting up clinics and schools, developing roads, improving crop plants and making small loans to local people to set up new businesses all of which bring benefits the broader community
• Each national Fairtrade organisation licences the use of the Fairtrade Mark by companies on specific products. Single products like tea and coffee must be 100% Fairtrade certified. For multi-ingredient products, those covered by Fairtrade standards must also be 100% Fairtrade certified Producers are charged for certification and companies for licences to use the mark.
• Rainforest Alliance promotes a strategy to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behaviour within forestry, agriculture and tourism.
• The Rainforest Alliance is a non-governmental organisation based in the USA. It is funded by the US Agency for International Development and private agencies. The Alliance also has strong structural and financial connections with companies through grants, sponsorship and employee donation-matching schemes.
• Rainforest Alliance certifies the farming methods used on farms of all sizes from co-operatives to large plantations. These have to meet the standards of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), a coalition of leading conservationist groups including the Rainforest Alliance. SAN standards are verified independently and cover 10 specific areas including waste management, water, soil and biodiversity conservation, and ensuring that workers have access to healthcare, decent housing and education for their children.
• Wages are guaranteed to meet the national legal minimum, which is not necessarily a ‘living wage’. There is no minimum or guaranteed price for products from certified farms. Improvements in product quality resulting from certification are expected to attract higher prices.
• The Rainforest Certified seal can be applied to single products such as tea or coffee provided that at least 30% is sourced from an Alliance certified farm. While producers carry the cost of certification, the use of the seal is free to companies.
Many ethical products have single certification. But there are some that are triple certified: Fairtrade, Organic AND Rainforest Alliance (eg. coffee from Pret a Manger, Marks & Spencer and Matthew Algie). So the different schemes are not mutually exclusive!
There are more than 750 Fairtrade certified producer organisations in 58 producer countries representing over 1 million farmers and workers. With their families and dependants, it is estimated that more than 5 million people benefit directly from Fairtrade.
The Rainforest Alliance is active in more than 60 countries worldwide and has certified more than 131 million acres of forest and farmland. Certified farm land amounts to more than 1.5 million acres.