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  • David Strait

How to Get Fair Trade Certified: for Traders

Fair trade certification for traders or handlers is for companies that handle fair trade certified products which they did not produce. As such it is not a certification for the company rather for the products by extending producer’s certificate down the supply chain. The main idea is that when a Trader purchases from Fair Trade Certified producer, importer, or another trader they need to show how products are traceable and connect back to the certified producer as the products move through their part of the supply chain. It’s understood that the prerequisite for all this is that you as the trading company will be purchasing certified products and intend to sell them as certified products (if you buy fair trade products but don’t label them or market them as fair trade no certification required).

There are several fair trade certifications, including

  1. Fair Trade USA

  2. Fairtrade America/Fairtrade International

  3. Fair for Life

  4. World Fair Trade Organization

  5. Naturland Fair

So to start you need to decide which one you’ll be working with – the choice is often set either by customer preference and/or the availability of the supplier. There is some level of mutual recognition – meaning that one certifier recognizes another as equivalent and will allow you as the trader to purchase products that have a different certificate than your own – but in general to keep things simple to start assume that you’ll be getting the same certification as the products that you intend to purchase.

There’s a few basic steps common to all of these certifications (for these purposes I'm going to focus on Fair Trade USA and Fairtrade America; it's a similar process for the others).

First is the initial Registration Process

  1. complete online form or application

  2. Get access to the online portal. For Fair Trade USA this is the Partner Portal; for Fairtrade America: CONNECT

  3. Rainforest Alliance: Marketplace

  4. Register products your products and submit the artwork (on labels or packaging)

  5. They approve the artwork. Note: that means the designs for the labels or packagaing only - artwork is not allowed to be printed or used before it’s been approved.

  6. Have an audit/verification, if applicable – more often than not this does not apply but it is required in some circumstances based on risk level.

  7. Sign Licensing agreement which grants you the rights to use the mark along with the rules of use and costs to you

  8. Pay fees, if applicable. This varies, for example

  • Fair Trade USA charges no fees up front

  • Fairtrade America charges an application fee and certification fee about $2600 combined

  • Rainforest Alliance could be fees or not, depends on the identified risk level

Once you’ve got your licensing agreement in place you’re free to buy and sell using the certifier’s logo. The main thing going forward on a regular basis is to ensure traceability: make sure that you can show that all products that you’re labeling as fair trade were in fact purchased from fair trade certified sources. This is done through the online portal and/or with paper Transaction Certificates. For companies that process and repack the products it’s harder than for straight distributors since you’ll need to show internal traceability records connecting the incoming materials to the finished products.

Then there’s the ongoing Maintenance Process

  1. Transaction reporting – report the total sales volume to the certifier every 3 months or 6 months (depending on which certifier and the volume of sales) – they charge based on volume so they need to know how much you’re moving

  2. Pay the service fees – per pound. Usually in the 5 to 10 cents per pound range. Exact price and billing policies varies, for example not charging at all for small volumes or charging a minimum fee even if sales don’t meet a certain amount

  3. Some certifiers also require a 3rd party verification. This could be with an official certifier, or in some cases can be done by 3rd party such as a consultant hired by the certified company.

This is for companies that are handling but no producing fair trade items. The original producer at the top of the supply chain needs to go through many more requirements and definitely needs an audit.

Here’s links to the fair trade organizations for more information

Fair Trade USA

Fairtrade International

Fair for Life

World Fair Trade Organization

Naturland Fair

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