A new report has raised fresh concerns over the true value of certification schemes like Fairtrade and UTZ-certified.
Sustainability consultancy Context Europe examined 15 popular sustainable production standards from the agricultural, fisheries and forestry industries. Across the standards reviewed, Context said that 47% were shown to have a positive impact on most criteria, 33% had a partial impact, and 13% delivered “very little or no positive change”.
The stance is a blow to the food and beverage industry, which, under mounting pressure from consumers to be more transparent and fairer for producers, has resorted in many places to developing in-house schemes that offer greater brands greater control – but show weaker solidarity – over the issue of sustainable production.
Perhaps the best known is Cocoa Life from Mondelēz International, which aims to support sustainable cocoa production and improve the health, education and the welfare of cocoa farmers.
The findings of the study have been published in a report entitled ‘Farms, Fisheries and Forests: Does Certification Make a Difference?’
Francesca Ward, senior consultant for Context, said: “We studied publicly available assessments of the standards looking for evidence of change for the better. We were disappointed to find that half showed minimal or no difference.”
The report’s publisher said that this means seven out of 15 standards didn’t meet the low bar of at least one example of positive change against most (over 80%) high-level criteria. It does point out, however, that the ambition, content and number of each standard’s criteria differ.
The results raise further questions about the true impact of schemes like Fairtrade, UTZ-certified, FSC, MSC and Rainforest Alliance.
FoodBev has seen emerging signs that brand owners are doubting the value and reputation of third-party schemes offered by the likes of the Fairtrade Foundation – and not just because several brands and retailers have opted for their own schemes over Fairtrade’s.
In April’s issue of FoodBev magazine, we spoke to Fernando Morales-de la Cruz – one of the fiercest critics of the fair-trade movement and founder of Café for Change, which is advocating for a much higher proportion of the retail cost of a product to go directly to the farmer.
He told us: “Café for Change started more than four years ago as a global initiative to create a discussion about the urgent need to end the exploitation of farmers, farm workers and also of tens of millions of innocent children by the coffee, tea and cocoa industries.
“More than 300 million people depend directly or indirectly from the production of coffee, tea and cocoa; most of them live in extreme poverty in spite of the global success of the industries they supply. Our objective is to create and implement We Share, a transparent ‘shared value’ compensation system of at least $0.10 per cup or $0.10 per bar to be paid by the consumer. This will fast track rural development, and create the economic conditions for [a] thriving middle class in agricultural communities.”
Morales-de la Cruz claims that the Fairtrade premium amounts to around a third of a cent per cup of coffee, meaning – once the minimum basic price has been added, and allowing for some loss in the roasting of the beans – a Fairtrade farmer might earn between a sixth and a seventh of a cent per cup.
Fairtrade says that looking at the premium in this light presents an inaccurate vision of how the scheme works and the benefit it derives for farmer-suppliers.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019