A Path Toward Continual Improvement: The DFTA Provides Comments for New and Revised Certification Standards
By Helena Li
Changing consumer preferences have spurred a new interest in the social justice of food production. Families care about more than just the quality of their food. They are concerned with how the food is produced and what resources go into providing their meals. This new change has created a number of impacts, one of which is an increased demand for food certifications in the United States and Canada.
Increasingly, food certifications communicate to consumers that the certified good is a product that embodies domestic fair trade or fair trade principles. In the interest of maintaining the integrity of the certification standards, as part of our Fair Facts Program, the DFTA convened members this year and last to propose revisions for several certification bodies newly seeking to certify in the United States and Canada.
Our members play a pivotal role in shaping the continual improvement of these standards by offering expertise to a wide range of certification bodies. As an organization consisting of members from across the agricultural supply chain, the DFTA is in an unique position to provide a wide range of expert feedback.
Most recently, the DFTA provided comments for Fair for Life (FFL) and Fair Trade USA (FTUSA)’s standard revisions, as well as comments for an ethical charter produced by a joint labor initiative of the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and the United Fresh Produce Association (UFPA). In addition to convening DFTA members to contribute public comments, the DFTA also attended a stakeholder summit convened by FTUSA and participated on FFL’s scheme committee, a smaller group of representatives that met before FFL’s open comment period, in order to provide more detailed feedback.
To provide feedback, the DFTA used our sixteen principles and past certification evaluations as a guide. “Applying this measure to each of the fair trade labels that we reviewed allowed us to give each participating label feedback on where they were weak, what needed work, and those places where they were actually doing well,” says Richard Mandelbaum, a longtime collaborator of the DFTA and a participant in our process to review these proposed standards.
When reviewing the proposed standards, “What we found runs the spectrum from programs seeming to unfortunately only be paying lip service to certain concepts, to others making a sincere effort,” says Mandelbaum.
Tomas Madrigal from Community to Community Development, who participated in the review processes for FFL and FTUSA, agreed that “what became clear as we evaluated more fair trade labels, was that they were not very compatible with one another.”
Despite the differences among the various proposed standards, one common area for improvement is often the inclusion of farmworkers in the creation and revision of standards. Elizabeth Henderson from the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), a longtime DFTA member, noted that there is often little “regard to international norms of standards creation that insist upon stakeholder participation.” Although these proposed standards “will affect farmworkers as deeply as farmers,” there is often little “attempt made to involve farmworkers or their advocates in any way.”
One of the basic tenets of the Domestic Fair Trade Association is continual improvement, and in general, there is always room to strengthen certification standards. According to Mandelbaum, “even the best programs have a lot to improve upon.”
As new certifications pop up and more established ones engage in revision processes, as Henderson says, it is important that “transparency at all levels of the trading system” is maintained in order to create truly fair and credible certification standards.
The DFTA hopes that by participating in these open comment periods, we can encourage all certification bodies to maintain a high level of transparency and achieve a high bar of social justice in new and revised standards.
Even though our written public comments are in no way an endorsement of any certification body or proposed standards, the DFTA is excited to participate in these revision processes as a way to engage with certification bodies and help them to continually improve their standards.
The DFTA will next be convening members to provide comments for the Agricultural Justice Project’s revised standards. If you would like to be involved in this process, please contact us here.