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Natural Foods Merchandiser

NFM Secret Shopper: How do fair trade labels differ?

NFM Secret Shopper: How do fair trade labels differ?
Each month, NFM’s secret shopper heads incognito into a natural products store with a question. The employee’s answer—and our expert’s evaluation of the response—is reported here. Our aim: to help you improve your store’s customer service. This month we asked about certified fair trade labels.

Store: Small, independent natural foods store in the Midwest

Question: Some producers have Fair Trade Certified labels and others' labels just say fair trade—is there a difference?

STORE: There are different fair trade groups out there with their own ratings.

NFM: So Fair Trade Certified just means it’s been certified by a third party?

STORE:  It means the manufacturer went through the process to have it certified and probably paid for it. I don’t know the specifics of this certification, but other products have other fair trade certifications.

Stacy Geagan Wagner of Fair Trade USA comments on response

Stacy Geagan WagnerStacy Geagan Wagner, director of marketing and public relations for Fair Trade USA, the third-party certifier behind the Fair Trade Certified label

The employee was correct in telling the customer that there are different fair trade certifying groups with their own ratings. This helps the shopper realize that not all certification labels are the same, and opens the door for further questions. She was also right in saying that if a product displays the Fair Trade Certified label, it went through an evaluation process. Growers, product developers and sellers all must adhere to a rigorous set of social, economic and environmental standards in order to sell specific products as Fair Trade Certified.

That said, the employee didn’t explain what Fair Trade Certified actually means and why it’s important. When a product bears this label, consumers can trust that the farmers and workers who produced it were paid fair prices and wages, had safe working conditions and received community development funds, and that the work was done sustainably.

It’s true that achieving Fair Trade certification is an investment—but it’s wrong to say that producers simply pay to use the label. Companies work hard to meet the standards required by the Fair Trade system, and consumers can be sure they are buying high-quality products that improve farmers’ and workers’ lives while protecting the environment.

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