Fairtrade logos mean nothing without consumer understanding

The Fairtrade logo has meant to stand as a guarantee of ethical trading. Whilst Waitrose is committed to the accreditation others including Sainsbury’s and now Green & Black have decided to move to their own ‘fairer trading’ certifications.

The underlying difficulty with voluntary labelling and these sorts of certification is that the standards that attach to them are unknown.

Welfare and sustainability as specific legal requirements were left out of the EU Food Information to Consumers Regulation 1169/2011 as the difficulties in reaching agreement across such varied food sectors were enormous. As such there are no legal standards for these voluntary claims.

They depend upon faith in the company actually attaching them. Consumers are unlikely to know anything more than the clue being in the name of ‘fair trade’ with suppliers. This is a broad general claim that is then completely open to food producers to make in another way with voluntary statements and claims on their packaging. With voluntary claims of these kind there is a raised expectation of standards and some positive substantiation is required if challenged by trading standards or the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) but there are no hard and fast rules that would apply, other than those the company chooses to implement on itself.  

The consumer has a sense of ‘doing the right thing’ and pride in their shopping basket when buying Fairtrade but as a logo this same pride can be matched with voluntary, self-authorised claims.

For the food producer pressure of rising raw material prices and pressure from retailers squeezing margins will mean that, where costs can be cut, they will be. The rise of the discounters has illustrated that for a large number of consumers, cost remains above other considerations and producers need to compete with this.

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