Piecing Together Systemic Change with Certifications

It’s Fair Trade month, and we’re recognizing the importance of Fair Trade and other certifications in creating lasting, systemic change in the food system.

At their most basic level, certifications ensure that food and goods are produced in accordance with transparent and verifiable standards. All certifications are different and it’s important to understand the standards they represent, as well as the distinctions between them.

Fair Trade Certified, perhaps the best known certification, “supports farming and working communities through the provision of on-the-job training and additional money for community investment.”1 Fair Trade also “upholds farmers’ and workers’ rights to participate in Fair Trade Committees, which activate gender equality, leadership opportunities, and community resilience.”2 A Fair Trade certification communicates that the item in question was grown or produced in a more socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable way (and has undergone a verification process).

While Fair Trade is perhaps the best-known certification focusing on the fair treatment of farmers and workers, there are a myriad of other certifications that focus on critical issues like deforestation, biodiversity, and even the proper use of pesticides in agricultural production. Certifications represent important pieces of what we think of as the fair food puzzle, a smorgasbord of intertwining efforts aimed at creating systemic change in the food system.

This Fair Trade month, we invite you to learn more about certifications starting with the list below.

  • Fair Trade Certified Fair Trade is “designed to protect the livelihoods of those who produce goods by requiring decent and safe working conditions, supporting economic well-being, advocating for gender equity, and protecting human rights.”3
  • Fair Food “The Fair Food Program stems from both the standards outlined in the Fair Food Code of Conduct… and the multi-layered approach to monitoring and enforcing compliance with those standards. The package of advanced, innovative standards and rigorous enforcement underlies the most comprehensive, verifiable and sustainable social responsibility program in US agriculture.”4
  • Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) “EFI brings greater transparency to the supply chain while helping the produce industry address some of its toughest issues like labor, sustainability and food safety. The program enables growers to better compete in a rapidly changing, global marketplace.”5
  • USDA Organic “USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines… Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible.”6
  • Rainforest Alliance Certified “The seal means that the certified product or ingredient was produced using methods that support the three pillars of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental. Independent, third-party auditors… evaluate farmers against requirements in all three areas before awarding or renewing certification.”7
  • Bird Friendly “Bird Friendly coffee farms are certified by third-party agencies to ensure they meet the Smithsonian’s rigorous habitat standards.”8

1 2https://www.fairtradecertified.org/why-fair-trade/theory-of-change
3 https://www.fairtradecertified.org/why-fair-trade/our-impact
4 https://www.fairfoodprogram.org/about-the-fair-food-program/
5 https://equitablefood.org/about-efi/
6 https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-usda-organic-label-means
7 https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/faqs/what-does-rainforest-alliance-certified-mean
8 https://nationalzoo.si.edu/migratory-birds/become-bird-friendly-certified