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Fair trade pioneers at the Anuga Organic Forum

30 Jul 2020

The pioneers of international and also regional fair trade met up in the scope of the Organic Forum at last year's Anuga. Winfried Fuchshofen, Executive Director of the independent Fair Trade seal, FairTSA, presented several of his projects. Primarily, the discussion with those responsible for fair trade at Naturland, the association FairBio and Gepa revolved around the different versions of fair and their purpose.

"A fair development can only take place if one supports the people and they are working for their own interests." This conviction of Winfried Fuchshofen, Executive Director of The Fair Trade Sustainability Alliance New Libanon (FairTSA), which is based in the State of New York (USA), is what stands behind each of the projects he and his team of ten people manage. His lecture at the Organic Forum was entitled, 'What rice, bananas and hibiscus have in common' and he used his presentation to outline the entire spectrum of the respective local problems taking three projects as an example. Ranging from Cambodia, to the Dominican Republic through to Sudan.

In Cambodia, the project involved the introduction of a growing system for rice plants, where these are planted as individual plants - which has huge positive effects regarding water consumption, methane production, yield and seed costs. In the Dominican Republic, the company supported discriminated Haitian farmers among others to obtain a legal residence permit. And it was possible to start supporting growing hibiscus in Sudan even though neither the ownership rights nor the payment were documented when the project began. Fuchshofen's conclusion: "What rice, bananas and hibiscus have in common is the commitment of the farmers, the project employees and the management of the organisations involved.”

Value creation in the countries of origin

For Peter Schaumberger of Gepa mbH particularly the Cambodian rice project demonstrated a key issue of fair trade, combined with development aid. Because through FairTSA a rice mill was also erected locally in Cambodia. For Schaumberger the key question is: "How can we create more added value, i.e. further processing, in the origin countries of the raw materials?" Gepa is addressing this matter.

For instance, in another lecture Schaumberger explained that Gepa has now added three coffees from different countries to its line-up, which are both roasted and packed locally before being shipped to Germany - which is uncommon in the coffee industry to-date.

Fair trade pioneers among themselves

Two people at the Anuga Organic 2019

With Gepa mbH and Fair & Sozial Naturland, which was also represented on the discussion panel, two of the pioneers of fair trade were brought together, who can indeed look back on a long-standing collaboration. Over thirty years ago already, Gepa and Naturland jointly changed the world's first tea plantations in Sri Lanka and India and also coffee cooperatives in Mexico and Peru over to organic farming. In 2011, a 100 percent fair dairy milk chocolate was jointly developed using the milk from the Genossenschaft Milchwerke Berchtesgadener Land.

The fourth organisation represented on the panel was less typical for the image of fair trade. Namely, a domestic fair trade organisation in Germany. Karin Artz-Steinbrink was one of the founding members, when the FairBio association was established eleven years ago. The association unites members from a wide range of different industries, who promote fair and regional organic products. She is the Executive Director of Upländer Molkerei, an organic dairy in North Hessen, which is operated autonomously by regional farmers and which today produces 40 million litres of organic milk a year.

Fair Trade label diversity: Pros and cons

No less than four fair trade organisations were gathered together on the stage and the host, Bernward Geier, journalist and long-standing former IFOAM President, summed it up in a nutshell: "The presented diversity is wonderful. However, does the power lie in the diversity (referring to the many different Fair Trade seals) or would it not be better to make the theme fair trade more transparent for the consumer?"

Schaumberger endeavoured to differentiate here for different target groups. For the producers it would be more practical to merge as many seals as possible in order to reduce the monitoring and certification efforts and thus also the costs. The consumers would also welcome a simplification in order to be able to classify products into black and white, good or bad more easily. However, for the company Gepa the world is not that simple. It pointed out that there are fixed, legal provisions and regulations for organic products, but not for fair trade. According to own accounts, Gepa is treading its own path as a mediator. Good certifications are needed, some of which Gepa is already cooperating with: "We want to work together with innovative, modern standards that also address pioneering themes."

For FairTSA it is not necessarily about having one's own label either. "It is about realising a vision. Our brand is of secondary importance," emphasised Winfried Fuchshofen. FairTSA also works together with people, who don't use the brand and the company is against monopolies. What it would however welcome for the fair trade section, is mutual recognitions. However, since he doesn't think this will happen in the near future, the consumers will have to carry on living with the diversity for the time being.

According to Friedrun Sachs, Naturland initiated the Fair & Sozial certification at the request of the producers. After products with the Fair Trade seal suddenly appeared on sale at the discounter, Lidl, an alternative was requested. Furthermore, the producers also wanted to have a special certification for the raw products from the global North.

Artz-Steinbrink explained that when the FairBio association was founded no own seal had been planned. Then, it was supposed to be documented on the packing that monitoring had been carried out, but there had been no suitable existing Fair Trade seal, which focused above all on the regionality. A further point that led to the Naturland Fair & Sozial certification, was that few Naturland factories were members of the FairBio association, the members were virtually only from Bioland and Demeter. It was stated that the FairBio association is however always open to other cooperations and is currently making it possible for not only manufacturers, but also the trade and producers to become members. There is to be no gap in the value chain.

Fair Trade seal: The crux with the rules

If there continue to be so many different seals, would it not at least make sense to define legally what is fair trade and what isn't? This proposal by Bernward Geier is viewed rather critically by the fair trade experts.

Peter Schaumberger then stated quite clearly: "In that case as a movement we will lose the sovereignty of interpretation. It would then lie in the bureaucracy and no longer with the players.” An outlook that doesn't thrill the pioneers.

Fair trade labels and its characteristics at a glance

Product with fair trade seal at Anuga 2019

The most widely distributed and most famous fair trade seal is the international Fair Trade seal of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (Fairtrade International, FLO in short). It is awarded by TransFair e.V. for Germany. The certification applies exclusively for products themselves, not for the manufacturing company.

Non-organic certified products can also bear the Fairtrade seal of the FLO, ecological production is not required. In addition to this, since 2011 the fairly produced share only has to be 20 percent for dairy products. This is also why various seals that place higher demands have arisen.

As a representative of the 100 percent fair trade, Gepa places the focus on Gepa as a brand for its products. The company is tested according to the WFTO guarantee system. In addition GEPA collaborates with five further certification and monitoring systems for example. FLO Cert and Naturland FAIR. Several products bear the company logo 'fair+'. It aims to underline the fact that GEPA commits itself beyond the standards of Fairtrade International, for example with additional country bonuses for coffee farmers or consulting for switching over to organic production. It is also the explicit goal to create new products with fair ingredients from the South and the North.

The FairTSA basic standard for fair trade encompasses agricultural products and their processing as well as cosmetics. From the very start the FairTSA standards were developed in such a way that they correspond with the demands of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). The standard endeavours to combine fixed and clear demands with sufficient flexibility in order to cover culturally different situations. The entire supply chain in the country of origin has to be certified for products that are FairTSA certified.

In the case of the Fair & Sozial seal of the Naturland association, both ecological as well as fair trade criteria are checked. The Naturland Fair guidelines were developed jointly together with the fair trade organisations Gepa, dwp and BanaFair and are concordant with the fair trade standards of the FLO. For the first time, the Naturland seal also offers individual farmers or dealers the possibility to have their products certified.

Companies that want to carry the FairBio seal have to be 100 percent organic and have to be at least tested in line with the EU Eco Regulation. The current product range guidelines of the Federal Naturkost Naturwaren Association (BNN) apply for FairBio members from the trade. As much value creation should remain in the region as possible, fair producer prices and transparency belong to the principles and the FairBio companies are orientated on the approach of the public welfare economy. The animal welfare checklist developed in 2013 by the organic farming associations Bioland, Demeter and Naturland forms part of the annual association monitoring.

Author of bioPress: Elke Reinecke