Not All Certifications Are Created Equal

When looking at many food products such as coffee and chocolate, you may notice certain labels or specifications. As I began digging into a can of worms in the chocolate industry, I learned that not all of these certifications are created equal. It’s been a helpful thing for me as a consumer to realize how these labels operate and what standard each one is enforcing.

imageFair Trade prohibits forced labor, child labor and discrimination, protects the freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. In addition to having a set price for crops that supports sustainable farming and security for small farmers despite the fluctuating world market price (if the market is “up” they will match the higher world market cost), they pay a social premium to each community of farmers for social development projects in their area. Farmers make a democratic community decision on where that social premium will be spent. To be Fair Trade Certified, 100% of the main ingredient must be certified. While the expense of becoming Fair Trade Certified has caused some to criticize Fair Trade as beyond the reach of the poorest farmers, many farms join together as a cooperative to share the expense and become certified together.

Search for products here.

image The Rainforest Alliance prohibits forced labor, child labor and discrimination. Protection of the right to organize is not dealt with. To become part of the Rainforest Alliance, farmers go through a rigorous process to attain Sustainable Agriculture Certification. The process of being certified instructs farmers in fair labor practice, sustainable farming techniques, and equips them to better market and stand up for their rights as small farmers. Protecting rather than abusing the environment, specifically the rainforest, is also a central focus. Rainforest Alliance does not set a base price for products, but reasons that farmers will be able to get a higher price for their crops over time by producing a higher quality and sustainable product. To be certified farmers do have to pay a comparable wage (or the legal minimum wage in their country) for hired help. To have the Rainforest Alliance certification on a finished product, 30% of the primary ingredient must be certified. This means that 70% of that product is not held accountable to the Rainforest Alliance’s fair labor standard, and could be produced through forced or child labor.

You can do a search for their products here.

image UTZ is an organization based in Amsterdam. It protects against forced labor, child labor and discrimination and supports the organization and cooperative bargaining of small farmers. UTZ believes that by teaching farmers sustainable practices and professional operational and management skills, farmers are able to produce more at lower costs. There is no fee for farmers to take part in the UTZ program. UTZ has a focus on helping existing big-brand corporations source their raw materials from these farmers. UTZ states that its products are purchased at a fair price. That price is determined in a case-by-case fashion, through a process of negotiation between farmers and buyers. Farmers are required to pay the legal minimum wage only after their first year in the program.

You can see a list of large companies around the world that are using UTZ certified products here and look at their sources around the world here. Some companies I recognize are Dunn Bros., Ikea, and ICA.

imageEqual Exchange is a farming co-op that helped to head up the initial fair trade coffee program, and all their products are Fair Trade Certified. Their motto is Small Farmers. Big Change. They are committed to fair business on many levels, including a 4:1 pay ration, where the top paying positions in their company cannot be more than 4 times the smallest paying position (ensuring the consumer they are not simply lining their own pockets with a Fair Trade premium). They meet and often exceed current fair trade standards.

See their products here.



Have you heard of another co-op, fair labor company or certification to add to the list? If so, please comment below!


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