Looking Behind the Labels

Rain forrest Alliance or Fairtrade

Social labels have stepped up their outreach striking deals with McDonald’s – who sell Rainforest Alliance coffee – and just this month, Cadbury Dairy Milk has gone Fairtrade causing a hullabaloo with more stringent campaigners. We think it’s time to take a closer look at two of the big boys of eco-labelling to see just what they’re achieving and how they compare. Are Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade tackling the same areas? When faced with the choice, where should you put your support? We make your decisions a whole lot easier.

What’s the guarantee to the consumer?

Rainforest Alliance – With over 25 million people dependent upon coffee production in areas under threat in the tropics, the main focus for Rainforest Alliance is environmental conservation through improving local farming methods. Where you spot their cute green tree frog logo, you know environmental conservation is key.
Fairtrade Mark – With erratic global markets, products with the Fairtrade Mark ensure producers receive a fair and stable price for their goods. It’s a kind of safety net for when prices fall beneath a sustainable level. Producers also receive a Fairtrade ‘premium’ on top, that is, a sum of money that must be invested in social, economic or environmental development projects. The Fairtrade Mark ensures people are put first.

And the scale of this – how many people are benefiting now?

RA – The Rainforest Alliance seal has been awarded to nearly 33,000 farms reaching 2 million farmers, workers and their families.
FT – Currently, around 7.5 million people, farmers, workers and their families now benefit from the international Fairtrade system.

Where in the world are their schemes in operation?

RA – Rainforest Alliance are working with agricultural farmers in 19 countries, predominantly in Central and South America.
FT – Fairtrade has the widest geographical scope of all social labels, and is working in 59 developing countries – 25 of them in Africa.

How long have they been in existence?

RA – Although founded in 1987, they have had a presence in the UK for just 5 years but smartly recognise companies’ needs to green up their supply chains.
FA – Fairtrade labelling has been in existence for over twenty years now and retails in over 60 countries worldwide.

What standards must they each meet?

RA – For a farm to be certified by the Rainforest Alliance, farmers must conserve their local environment addressing fundamentals such as ecosystem and wildlife protection, water, soil and waste management. They do focus on better conditions for farm workers – but environmental conservation is priority.
FT – For a producer group – and the traders – to be Fairtrade, they must be organised as democratic and transparent groups and able to demonstrate how Fairtrade will provide social, economic and environmental benefits for both the producers and their community.

So the approaches are actually quite different?

RA – The idea is, that as the farmers conserve their environment and produce products that are fit to carry the Rainforest Alliance Certification seal, the farmers can then demand more money for their goods. They will be competing in a tough global marketplace still, but hopefully, with a more valuable commodity.
FT – By addressing the farmer first and focusing on poverty alleviation – with guaranteed incomes and a long-term trading relationship – the idea is that social, economic and environmental sustainability will follow as farmers can then afford to build for a more sustainable future.

And who sets the standards?

RA – A network of nine small not-for-profit environmental groups based in Latin America called SAN – including the Rainforest Alliance themselves – plus a watchdog group in Denmark.
FT – 23 groups of the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation in Germany and an independent group, called FLO-Cert.

What products are available?

RA – Mainly tea and coffee but fruit juices are a new addition. You can find Rainforest Alliance tea and coffee in McDonald’s. Since the switch, their coffee sales hiked up by 23 per cent and now 85% of McDonalds European coffee is Rainforest Alliance. PG Tips – who have made a £12m marketing investment – want to have all Rainforest Alliance tea by 2010. Both Costa Coffee and Kenco aim to switch all their coffee to Rainforest Alliance by 2010 too. Mars Drinks, Lavazza, Pret a Manger and Innocent Smoothies are all working with Rainforest Alliance.
FT – There are currently over 4,500 products available with the biggest sellers by value being coffee, chocolate, banana and now cotton. Cadbury’s recent move to source Fairtrade cocoa beans will triple sales from Fairtrade cocoa in Ghana and is one of many successful moves to mainstream Fairtrade. The products have mainly been agricultural due to the focus on disadvantaged in developing countries – but they have now moved into manufactured goods, such as cotton.

And the dosh – how much do companies pay to carry their logos?

RA – For the Rainforest Alliance, it is all done on individual agreements – some seal users pay, others don’t. For example, McDonald’s could enter into an agreement, and the proceeds of which would go towards enabling more Rainforest Alliance farms, marketing and media. So, they could pay, but they don’t have to.
FT – The Fairtrade Foundation charges a licensing fee, which varies and can be as much as 1.7 per cent of wholesale price. However, it’s less if you’re a 100 percent Fairtrade company, and gets cheaper the more products you shift, down to as low as 0.1 percent.

If you have any more questions you’d like answered on the differences between these two major social labels, post them here and we’ll do our best to answer.

You may also like...

  • Thanks for this article. Very well explained. 🙂

  • Thanks for addressing this, I have been asking the same question for ages.
    So if environmental conservation is priority for RA certification…does this have a positive impact on farming methods used to grow coffee…ie. do they following organic principles? or are they conventionally farmed?

  • Good and useful summary! On who sets the standards, representatives of Fairtrade producer groups sit on the Board, standards committee and certification committee of FLO – it isn’t just the labelling initiatives – and the process includes a wider stakeholder consultation, including producers, traders and NGO partners. Producer ownership, and the philosophy of empowerment of small scale producers, or workers on larger farms, is a key element of the Fairtrade model.

  • Dan

    I have often thought about this topic before, and I have found this article informative. What was interesting is finding out about the Rainforest Alliance, as I have had perceived them to be something else, some sort of poor imitation. I think this was perhaps due to their association with corporate global brands such as Starbucks and McDonalds, so I always felt there was something exceptionally dubious behind it.

    A question for the chaps at ESS though, can we expect to see the likes of major mainstream brands such as PG Tips and Mars Bars being offered for sale next to Teadirect and Geobars? Is the Rainforest Alliance credential strong enough to warrant such lines being stocked, or does it devalue somewhat the brands already being sold?

    After all, surely it’s down to the consumer to make an informed decision, and ESS should offer as many alternatives as possible.

  • Hi Lindsey, and thanks for your question. With regards to RA certified farms – no, they do not have to be organic. However, as you would expect, all those agrochemicals globally accepted as banned and as defined by UNEP, EPA (Environmental Protection Agency in the US), the European Commission, and the Pesticide Action Network’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ are not permitted on Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. Should farmers use them, then their certification will be instantly removed.

  • Hi Dan, as you rightly say, it’s up to the consumer to make as informed a choice as possible – which is what we’re helping to do here, by providing information beyond what you’d expect to find on the product itself. Could, or should, PG Tips be stocked next to Teadirect? That to a large degree is controlled by consumer demand too – so, you could say, it’s up to us to decide.

  • Bob Gunn

    Informative article and discussion. Where similar products are considered (eg coffee, tea) is it possible to say whether the additional cost to a retailer of using the Rainforest Alliance seal is greater or less than using the Fairtrade seal?

  • I have often been asked this question recently, this will really help to explain the main differences.

  • Hi Bob, The fees that retailers pay to the certification company, ie. Rainforest Alliance or Fairtrade Foundation, vary. With Rainforest Alliance there are NO licensing fees. However, those businesses using the seal ‘may’ choose to enter into an agreement with Rainforest Alliance and the proceeds will go towards further origin development (enabling more Rainforest Alliance farms). So, retailers are not obliged to pay a fee at all (as I mentioned in the case of McDonald’s). The Fairtrade Foundation charge a license fee that ranges from 1.7 to 0.1 per cent of the wholesale price – it is less if you are a 100 per cent Fairtrade company and selling more products. So, in answer to your question, the additional cost to the retailer, in the case of Rainforest Alliance, will be left to the discretion of the individual retailer – but can be as low as zero. With the Fairtrade Foundation it is a fixed fee and depends on both the type and scale of company. Hope that helps.

  • Pingback: Carnival of the Green 172 - Go Green - SustainLane()