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To get Fair Trade Certified™ in the United States or Canada, a company normally has to meet certain standards determined by Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO). TransFair USA and TransFair Canada are the North American labeling members of FLO International that issue the Fair Trade Certified™ mark. Outside of North America, 18 other countries have their own labeling members that certify goods according to FLO International’s guidelines.
Fair trade labeling initiatives were first introduced in the late 1980s, and FLO International was founded in 1997. Prior to that, markets for fair trade goods were small and not very well known. In order to raise consumer awareness and promote fair practices, product certification became an attractive option to producers. Items labeled as fair trade goods could then be sold in conventional markets while bearing a mark of distinction.
To earn fair trade certification, a company or organization typically has to adhere to certain regulations set by FLO International. Then, the company usually applies for inspection and certification from FLO-CERT, an independent organization that was established when FLO International split in 2004. In order to demonstrate its commitment to fair trade policies, a company normally must prove that it pays fair wages to its workers and promotes decent labor conditions. In addition, organizations usually must act in a democratic fashion, allowing unrestricted trade between producers and buyers. Typically, environmentally sustainable production methods are also important, as are efforts to support community development.
The first step in becoming Fair Trade Certified™ is to submit an application to FLO-CERT, after determining that one’s products fall within the scope of the certification system. Then FLO-CERT audits the organization to ensure compliance with fair trade standards. During these audits, FLO-CERT representatives generally meet with company representatives and review documents. They also observe labor conditions and production methods. Next, FLO-CERT evaluates the auditors’ reports and issues a decision regarding certification. A company that receives a favorable decision notifies its labeling organization in order to gain permission to use the Fair Trade Certified™ mark.
FLO-CERT audits both producers and traders. Examples of some commonly certified goods include coffee, tea, chocolate, vanilla, fresh fruit, rice, sugar, and flowers. A certification cycle, according to FLO-CERT, lasts one year. Companies are subject to renewal inspections to ensure their continued compliance with fair trade standards. Companies that wish to be Fair Trade Certified™ can contact FLO-CERT directly, or request more information from their countries’ labeling bodies.