Fair Trade, Inc.
When I think of fair trade, I think of coffee or tea or bananas. But the fair-trade label is increasingly popping up on all kinds of products: ice cream, lip balm, even T-shirts.
Fair trade has gone corporate. Composite products -- items with some but not all fair trade ingredients -- are the fastest-growing part of the market, according to Paul Rice, chief executive of certifier TransFair USA. In 2009, the number of certified multi-ingredient products rose 23 percent vs. 9 percent for all fair trade products.
Is that a good thing?
Naturally, Rice thinks it's terrific because it increases demand for fair trade staples such as cocoa and sugar. Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Macadamia ice cream might not be 100 percent fair trade, but it has helped increase U.S. imports of fair-trade certified cocoa 111 percent, from 1.8 million pounds in 2006 to 3.8 million pounds in 2008. Imports of fair trade sugar jumped 142 percent, from 3.6 million pounds to 8.7 million pounds in the same period.
"What we've seen is the mainstreaming of the model," said Rice, who launched the fair-trade certification in the United States 10 years ago. Today, TransFair USA certifies 830 products including vanilla, honey, olive oil and, coming soon, nuts.
Okay. But I was concerned about greenwashing. Would any company that used a little bit of fair trade sugar or 5-percent fair trade cotton be allowed to slap a fair-trade label on its product? Could a coffee company use half fair-trade beans and half conventional beans and still get a stamp of approval? Would fair trade become the next organic, a key battleground in the food labeling wars?
Rice said his standards remain strict. Single-ingredient products such as coffee or tea must be 100 percent fair trade to be certified. Energy bars, ice cream and juice blends must be clearly labeled as to which ingredients are fair trade, both under the TransFair logo and in the list of ingredients. "We had a big strategy and philosophical debate over this," Rice said. "We wanted real clarity about what was and what wasn't fair trade."
TransFair appears to be succeeding. Fair-trade certified ingredients are clearly named under the official black-and-white logo. But the organization must continue its efforts to certify more products, including foods grown in the United States. (That way Ben & Jerry's could feature fair trade milk, for example, not just the mix-in flavors.)
"As we know it today, fair trade is about the developed world helping the developing world. But in some ways that's a false barrier," Rice told me. "Conscious consumers are not less sympathetic to Mexican workers picking strawberries in Watsonville [Calif.] than to Mexican workers picking bananas in Mexico. We are interested in extending the market."
-- Jane Black
July 20, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
Categories: Food labeling | Tags: Jane Black, fair trade
Save & Share: Previous: Where Does Food Come From? Ask Google Maps
Next: Where Does Food Come From? Ask Google Maps
Posted by: hugosalias-washingtonpost | July 20, 2009 6:20 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Jane Black | July 21, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: fairtradethewhitehouse | July 22, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.