In Öko-Test's analysis of whether certain labels in product categories such as coffee and cocoa are “fair” or “unfair”, the magazine used criteria that largely coincide with the elements of Fairtrade standards, namely on guaranteed minimum price, minimum wage for workers and child labour. Systems that deviated from these criteria were deemed to be “unfair”.
In the collective statement, the ISEAL members express disappointment that their sustainability standards have been assessed in a way that does not reflect the multiple objectives and approaches for moving the agricultural sector towards sustainability. They also pointed out that they, along with Fairtrade International, all participate in the ISEAL Alliance and adhere to ISEAL's Codes of Good Practice for credible and transparent standard-setting.
Certainly differences between sustainability standards need to be understood and one of ISEAL’s areas of work is on the creation of an online tool for meaningfully comparing standards with respect to all of the sustainability issues they cover. But efforts to educate consumers about the standards behind ecolabels can lead to confusion and misrepresentation, especially if they do not accurately capture the sustainability objectives and strategies of a given standard.
At ISEAL we recognise the value in having standards with different models and targets working to transform operations in a given sector if these standards are each credible and effective at delivering sustainability impacts. Given that certification covers less than 10% of production in most sectors, the activities of different sustainability standards can often complement each other in reaching the common goal of scaling up.
Incomplete comparisons of standards risk undermining the important efforts of different certification systems to work with farmers on better practices relating to labour, water, climate change, income security and a whole range of critical issues in sustainable agriculture. They also do a disservice to the acknowledgements made by sustainability standards of their aligned mission. In February 2011, Fairtrade International, UTZ Certified and Rainforest Alliance publicly recognised that their diverse approaches can be positive for the standards movement and benefit producers, and they also pledged to cooperate where possible. The joint statement can be read here.
It is unfortunate that Öko-Test’s conclusions emphasised discord between the credible standards of Fairtrade, 4C Association, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Certified, when in fact there is a shared goal among them to advance sustainability through internationally recognised social and environmental standards.
To read the joint response from 4C, UTZ Certified and Rainforest Alliance / Sustainable Agriculture Network click here.