Fair Trade Organizations Explore Certifying Crafts


Fair trade organizations explore certifying crafts.  There is increasing consumer demand for products in mainstream stores and super­markets that are produced without exploiting workers, children and the environment. This is consistent with the principles of fair trade (FT).  It’s essentially a requirement to know about the supply chain from field or workshop to retail point of sale, and trust that the prod­ucts are produced in compliance with ethical standards.

Just think if we could take a product to an in-store bar-code scanner and not only get information as to price and availability, but also who made it, under what condi­tions, how much was paid to the pro­ducers and how was it transported to the store? There would be information on wages, living conditions, mark-ups and carbon footprints.  It would be a real-time visible look in to the supply chain.

As we are increasingly interdependent on our small planet, we have to take re­sponsibility for addressing these con­cerns and assuring sustainable, fair and ethical trading systems.

There are several initiatives that give varying degrees of independent third party assurance about green, sustainable, or­ganic, fair trade and other ethical product di­mensions. Ethical consumers place a value on these labels, and in most cases are prepared to pay a premium price for the ethical assur­ance given. However there remains confusion about the number of ethical dimensions and the credibility of the endorsing organizations.


Fair Trade Craft Developments


The dominant certification and labeling orga­nization in the world is the Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO) headquartered in Bonn, Germany, having 24 member operations in various countries. The US affiliate has re­cently changed its name from TransFair to Fair Trade USA, and is based in Oakland, Cali­fornia. FLO started by certifying coffee, then tea and chocolate, still the dominant com­modities that are certified. However there is now an extensive list of commodities that are certified including cotton, wine, rice, flowers, honey, cocoa, sugar and many more. They are considering a move to certifying crafts, and to some extent have started with soccer balls and cotton. FLO certifies through its FLOCERT subsidiary the commodity product itself and its supply chain.

However, certification of hand-crafted crafts under a single inflexible commodity standard is impossible due to the large number of craft product types (50,000+) and their dizzying ar­ray of source materials. Unlike homogenous commodity cash and food crops like coffee, sugar and cacao, no finished craft or produc­ing community are alike. Another complaint about FLO is that it is expensive, and the smaller commodity producers as well as craft producers cannot afford the cost of certifica­tion for the right to use a label.

The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO, for­merly known as IFAT) has been investing in a craft certification, monitoring and labeling scheme now called the WFTO Fair Trade Sys­tem. At their conference in Mombasa, Kenya in May 2011, it was decided to explore the possibility of using the WFTO membership and monitoring system as a way of certifying compliance with FT Principles. There is a trial system underway with over 60 participants, and a handful of craft companies are certified to use an interim craft label. However it is not clear what will happen due to financial prob­lems with the funding of the scheme. There is however an emphasis on making the process cost effective and affordable.

Other craft certification initiatives include the “Fair for Life” scheme developed by the Swiss certifier IMO. IMO started with organic and commodities certification, and launched “Fair for Life” in 2006 as a brand neutral, independent certification system for social accountability and fair trade. They have cer­tified a growing number of food and person­al care brands in the U.S., as well as some brands of fair trade coffee who replaced their Fair Trade USA certification with Fair for Life certification. IMO’s approach has the flexibil­ity to certify very different crafts and producer contexts, but with rigor such that consumers can trust fair trade criteria are met. However cost of IMO certification remains an issue.

Another organization emerging as a fair trade craft certifier is EcoCert, based in France. They were founded in 1991, and began in the organic sectors for food. They developed in 2010 an EFT (EcoCert Fair Trade) Standard to guarantee organic and FT products. Ecocert has established a network of 23 offices around the world support­ing operations in 80 different coun­tries.

There are other certification initiatives in the US, including the Rainforest Alli­ance which does not certify crafts. The certification process is not ready to hit the market.

As this process continues & the fair trade movement strengthens, we can all look forward to an improved world market & have a greater confidence that people along the chain are living a fair life.  Our next article will look briefly at the awareness of fair trade across the U.S. & U.K.

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