#CERTIFIED: A QUICK GUIDE TO CONSCIOUS LABELS
How do you even begin to know if something was made ethically, under circumstances that are good for you, good for the Earth, and good for the people who made that product? It’s difficult to research every company and every product you buy, and what if the information you’re looking for isn’t even available, or it’s incomplete? Well, a good place to start is just by looking for different labels that signify transparency and ensure that at least in one way, the product was made ethically. There are quite a few of them and it can get confusing, so I want to give you the basics for the most common ethical labels. But first, two disclaimers:
First, remember that just because a business doesn’t carry one of these labels doesn’t mean they are not adhering to strict ethical standards. In fact, there are many small businesses that are even more strict in their production than what these certifications require, but choose to not get certified for one reason or another. (For example, many small businesses may not be able to afford the steep fees involved in the certification process.) So you should never automatically neglect a product or brand if they aren’t displaying a label; it just may require an extra step of research on your part.
Likewise, just because a product qualifies for one of these certifications doesn’t mean it’s perfect or that the company doesn’t have room to grow. For example, just because a product meets environmental sustainability standards doesn’t mean everyone involved in the supply chain is being treated fairly. As consumers, we have the power to continue to ask questions and challenge companies to keep making progress until each step of the supply chain is carried out in the right way. That being said, don’t get perfect get in the way of good. It’s unrealistic for brands and consumers to do things perfectly, so feel empowered to choose the best option!
There are several different Fair Trade certifications and networks. Each organization has somewhat different standards, may serve different regions of the world, or have different auditing processes. However, they all have a similar common goal: to create a world in which workers are treated with integrity, paid fairly, and work safely. Fairtrade International and their US representative Fairtrade America defines Fair Trade as: “a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized farmers and workers – especially in developing countries.”
Fairtrade International focuses on organized small farmers for most products like coffee and cocoa with a small percentage of certified plantations in products like fresh produce, tea and flowers (this is the biggest difference between Fairtrade International and Fair Trade USA). FLOCERT is the independent auditor for Fairtrade International products and the auditors are usually located in the country where they are certifying. Both producers and traders must meet standards based on their specific industry. Examples of these standards include minimum prices and premiums for community development, safe working conditions, fair wages, the right to join a union, and transparency in the supply chain.
Fairtrade International and Fair Trade USA used to belong under the same umbrella organization, adhere to the same standards, and work with the same auditors. However, in 2011, Fair Trade USA split from Fairtrade International and their certification system, deciding instead to form their own set of standards. Their decision was a controversial one, with the biggest disagreement being whether or not large farms can be certified. Fair Trade USA chose to expand from small farms and cooperatives to include larger farms and plantations as Fair Trade eligible in the hopes of making Fair Trade products more widespread and available. Unfortunately, the initiatives taken during this time have proven to be somewhat unsuccessful.
Certified Fair Trade USA products are subject to independent audits and assessments and have to adhere to strict standards. These standards include transparency in the supply chain and decision making, fair wages and stable business partnerships, safety in the workplace and absolutely no child labor, as well as environmental sustainability and prohibition of GMOs and toxic chemicals.
The World Fair Trade Organization started out as just a network of Fair Trade businesses. However, in 2011, WFTO implemented a Guarantee System, which works in a way similar to a certification. It is a way of verifying that Fair Trade practices are being carried out in an organization’s supply chain and practices. There are five major components to the WFTO’s system that a business must adhere to in order to display the label: new membership admission procedure, Self Assessment Report, Monitoring Audit, Peer Visit, and the Fair Trade Accountability Watch.
The Fair Trade Federation is another organization that is not a true certification, but a network. Its members are, however, subject to strict Fairtrade requirements and code of conduct. Members of the FTF are not audited; their membership is based on self report. The FTF focuses on North American businesses and is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization.
Fair for Life is another third party label that certifies companies based on three areas of impact:
Respect of human rights and fair working conditions
Respect of the ecosystem and promotion of biodiversity, sustainable agriculture practices
Respect and betterment of local impact
Fair for life seeks to open up the fair trade certification to certain types of companies and materials (such as raw materials) that may be otherwise excluded from certification with some of the other labels.
Most people probably know what the Organic label means. But to give you a quick refresher: products that are Certified Organic by the United States Government adhere to standards that protect natural resources, conserve biodiversity, and only contain approved substances which are not harmful to the earth or consumers. Organic farmers rely on natural products as opposed to synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or other additives. Meat that is certified organic must have come from animals who lived in their natural environment (ie, in a pasture, eating grass), and must not be fed hormones or steroids. When shopping organic, make sure you pay attention to phrases like “made with organic ingredients,” which doesn’t necessarily mean the entire product is organic. Unfortunately, this is a bit of a controversial label because some research has shown that many times, organic produce has just as much pesticides as non-organic.
B Corp is sort of like Fairtrade for business. Instead of certifying that a product is doing good, B Corp certifies that a business as a whole is doing good. A certified B Corp company is a for-profit organization that uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. These companies meet “rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.” Certified B Corp companies are given all kinds of resources that help them assess and measure their impact and improvements, and are regularly subject to audits.
Leaping Bunny is a certification that ensures that cosmetics and household goods are not tested on animals. In order to qualify for the Leaping Bunny Standard, brands are also prohibited from using any ingredients that have been tested on animals in their products as well. This means if you see the Leaping Bunny logo, that product is 100% free from testing on animals. Be advised: although Leaping Bunny certified products may qualify as vegan, the label does not mean the products does not use any animal product at all.
The Cruelty Free bunny logo is the official symbol of PETA, and is mostly found on products in the USA. This logo means that companies have committed to not testing any of their ingredients or finished products on animals. The label is dependent on the word and integrity of the company and there is no third party auditing involved.
Products that bear the Rainforest Alliance seal adhere to strict environmental sustainability standards and the Rainforest Alliance puts transparency, integrity, and measurability at its highest priority. The goal of the Rainforest Alliance is to transform the way products are made and consumers shop in order to preserve our natural resources. The Alliance is focused on curbing climate change, keeping forests standing, protecting biodiversity, alleviating poverty, and transforming business practices.
A Green America certified business means the company is “actively using their business as a tool for positive social change.” A Green America certified company is committed to operating on principles of social justice and environmental sustainability throughout the way they source, manufacture, and market their products. It is also committed to transparency and is accountable for tracking and continually improving every area of the business. There are two levels of the Green America certification: basic Certified and Gold Certified, which is for businesses that go above and beyond the basic standards. This certification is also based on the company’s integrity, as opposed to outside auditors.
GoodWell is a newer certification that certifies fair, ethical, and humane employers. The first of its kind, I think this label is going to become just as important as the ones above. With movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp, consumers are demanding fairness and equality from all businesses like never before.
GoodWell uses real data to certify companies based on 11 difference metrics, which include things like racial and gender pay equality, CEO to employee pay ratios, employee satisfaction, child labor, worker safety, and more.
What other labels do you trust while you shop?