It's a crowded marketplace for ethical certifications, with so many businesses wanting a piece of the action when it comes to claiming ethical credibility with their customers.
But buyer beware, as there's a lot of so-called "green wash" out there, and a similar state when it comes to claims about the social impacts of products and businesses.
As a shopper, how do you sort the real from the dodgy when it comes to claims about positive social and environmental impacts? There's a plethora of certifications and logos now on a very wide range of products on the Australian market. So many, in fact, that it's leading to an understandable level of cynicism.
Some accreditations, like "Sustainable" or "Rainforest Alliance," focus on reducing the environmental impacts of growing or production. Others, such as Fair Trade, Fairtrade, Fair for Life, Global Organic Textile Standard (G.O.T.S.) and Green America, among others, emphasise both the social and environmental impacts of a wide range of products, enterprises or services.
Let's take a brief look at two of them - Fair Trade and Fairtrade - to help you understand what they mean and also the difference between them. I'll cover some other schemes in later posts.
Fair Trade (two words) encompasses a range of schemes or certifications which apply to a charity, enterprise or manufacturer rather than a specific product. It involves a business demonstrating that it follows a range of ethical principles and standards across its entire business operations and supply chain. These are amazingly comprehensive in their scope.
They apply from sourcing materials to manufacture, worker conditions, safety and pay across an entire business - not just the factory floor - financial sustainability and transparent operations, worker engagement and industrial democracy, discrimination and gender, intellectual property rights, especially when using traditional art and designs, and environmental impacts at all levels of operation.
The two main international bodies which certify, train and periodically audit Fair Trade enterprises are the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) - based in Europe and covering Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania - and the Fair Trade Federation (FTF) - based in the United States and covering the Americas.
Each has a different logo:
WFTO Logo (left) and the FTF logo (right).
When you see one (or both) of these logos on a product, it means that it was produced by an enterprise which has been guaranteed or certified to follow the Fair Trade principles.
These are logos which we believe you can have a lot of confidence in. Unlike most "ethical" schemes, Fair Trade involves a great deal of transparency and accountability, so that when things go wrong in a business or supply chain - and sadly they occasionally do - they are found and fixed or the enterprise looses its certification until it's demonstrated to have been fixed.
In contrast, Fairtrade (one word), encompasses a single scheme of certification which applies to commodities like coffee, cocoa (chocolate), tea and cotton.
The Fairtrade logo is an international icon.
Fairtrade certifications are given following rigorous evaluation and maintained through supply chain auditing by Fairtrade International. Growers, producers and business involved in agriculture producing coffee, cocoa/chocolate, cotton and other commodities are required to follow the "Fairtrade Standards" in order for their products to be Fairtrade certified.
According to Fairtrade International, they are designed to support the sustainable development of small producer organisations and agricultural workers in developing countries and incorporate a holistic blend of social, economic and environmental criteria.
The standards apply also to the traders of these certified commodities, so that companies and businesses contribute to sustainability in their supply chains and operations.
So, in a nutshell, products carrying the Fair Trade logos are made by organisations which follow the Fair Trade Principles (of the WFTO or FTF) across their entire operation.
While products with the Fairtrade logo have been certified along their entire supply chain as meeting the Fairtrade standards of Fairtrade International.
There you have it! A quick guide to the main differences between Fair Trade and Fairtrade. As a shopper, you can have confidence in products carrying any of these three logos as having been ethically produced, as shown through rigorous, third party, certification and ongoing monitoring.
Happy ethical shopping!