Fair trade for the planet and people

This article is sponsored by Fair Trade USA.

Each of us in our own way is finally coming out of the pandemic. As we all reclaim our daily lives, it reminds us of the environmental challenges we still face. With this awakening, conscientious consumers’ appetite for sustainable products is once again increasing.

No surprise to any informed Western citizen, our habits profoundly affect the world around us. Yet education around the causal link between consumer behavior and climate change, global fisheries failures, deforestation, land degradation and other environmental concerns for decades has overlooked or omitted producers entirely. of our consumer goods.

Every consumer purchase has the power to protect local production environments, as well as the humans who live and work there. Each of these purchases could bring a brand that much closer to achieving one or more of its commitments to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

However, until recently, corporate social responsibility did not always overlap with environmental regulations. This environmental and social disconnect has created inefficiencies, leading to a breakdown in holistic sustainability.

But, there is hope: for brands, consumers, producers and the planet.

Governments, businesses and consumers are beginning to make the connection between environmental and social sustainability.

Improving impact through ESG

The successor to corporate social responsibility merges environmental, social and governance (ESG) aspects to create powerful results.

As Karin Kreider, Executive Director of the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labeling (ISEAL), said in a recent conversation, “Environmental and social sustainability should go hand in hand. If linking topics via ESG helps draw attention to these as a combined concept, so that’s a good thing.”

Since the term was coined in 2005, its growth has been enormous. BusinessGreen previously reported $30 trillion in ESG investments under management by 2019.

Although Fair Trade USA believes its work can benefit many SDGs, the six SDGs most directly impacted by its work are an equal mix of social and environmental issues:

  • SDG 1: No poverty
  • SDG 5: Gender equality
  • SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation
  • SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth
  • SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production
  • SDG 14: Life below water

The focus on shared environmental, social and governance impacts has brought benefits not only to investors, but also to producers and their local environments.

Leilani Latimer, director of sales and marketing at Fair Trade USA, believes that what matters most is how an organization manages and measures ESG, and then uses it strategically. Latimer further explained, “By linking investment to impact, and impact to results, organizations can take a longer-term view and see the clear links between economic, environmental, and social sustainability.”

Many collaborative efforts have emerged as a result of the shift in focus.

To cite just one example, the interrelationship between environmental and social sustainability has long eluded seafood consumers and their favorite brands. In 2020, however, an Indonesian fishery became the first in the world to achieve both Fair Trade Certified and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification.

This partnership between Fair Trade USA and MSC would not be the last collaboration between FT USA and MSC. In 2022, joined by The Non-GMO Project, the two organizations shared information on growing consumer interest in the connection between environmental and social sustainability.


Fruits of their labor

The results of this shift in focus from corporate social responsibility to ESG are not limited to certifications and wellness labels.

Highlighting the impact of rigorously applied assessment criteria and certification key performance indicators, ISEAL’s Kreider emphatically stated, “Strong integration between the company’s efforts to improve supply chain sustainability procurement and third-party initiatives, such as standards systems or other similar tools, have proven to be very effective. efficient and connects economic and environmental sustainability.”

Through its Impact Management System (IMS), Fair Trade USA’s rigorous evaluation criteria both satisfy consumer demands and provide benefits to local communities. In order for farmers and fish producers to maintain their certified fair trade status, individual producers and sites are regularly audited.

Sarah O’Brien, CEO of the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council, talks about Fair Trade USA’s unique and impactful model. “I think one of the best models I’ve seen for linking environmental, economic, and social impacts is Fair Trade USA’s new Impact Assessment Framework. By leveraging multiple factors that can improve the well -being community residents to gauge the success of the initiative, the system creates drivers of action to create positive benefits on both the environmental and social side of the equation.”

Kate Williams, director of monitoring and impact evaluation at Fair Trade USA, leads the team in assessing producers against a long list of criteria, which includes things like “the percentage of farmers who know about protected areas, as well as the percentage of anglers who know how to reduce bycatch. ‘in a way that protects human ecosystem health’ to ‘monitoring deforestation or natural forest degradation’.

The resulting certification is not just a tax process for local producers.

The prices consumers pay for Fair Trade Certified products include a premium that is then passed on to local producer communities through Community Development Funds (CDFs). These funds are managed by local elected committees, which disburse the funds to community projects related to education, health and welfare, and environmental conservation.


Solving the difficulty of communicating ESG progress

One of the biggest issues for brands today is communicating their progress towards ESG goals. For consumers, this makes it difficult to buy into potentially empty promises.

Fairtrade certification is backed by rigorous IMS assessment criteria and requires consistent contributions to strong CDFs. The rigors of certification and the benefits to local communities and environments are achievements that brands can showcase to consumers.


It is essential to be able to demonstrate both social and environmental impact. Williams related a maxim in today’s sustainability industry that “the ‘golden rule’ is you can’t have one or the other; you have to have both. You have to talk about human rights and the environment together.”

Certifications that demand not only social but also environmental impact allow consumers to confidently pay the high prices that facilitate brands’ progress towards achieving the SDGs. Together, brands and consumers can drive change towards a more sustainable future for industry, producers, consumers and the planet.

Click here to learn more about the benefits of Fair Trade Certified for the planet and people.

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