Traceability in Fairtrade supply chains

The majority of Fairtrade products, including all Fairtrade coffee, bananas and flowers, are fully traceable – meaning they are kept separate from non-Fairtrade products from the field to the Fairtrade labelled product on store shelf. But there are some products where this is difficult to achieve, and can actually be detrimental to farmers.

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A FLOCERT auditor speaking with a quality assurance manager at a Fairtrade certified business.
Image © Manuel Pandalis

Maximizing benefits for farmers

Tracking products along every stage of the supply chain can be difficult and costly. In Fairtrade, there are four products – cocoa, tea, sugar and fruit juices – where this is extremely difficult and can limit sales for farmers. These products are routinely mixed or go through complex manufacturing processes in local mills, factories or at the point of shipping.

Fairtrade and many other certifiers operate a traceability programme type known as ‘mass balance’ to ensure farmers and workers have maximum opportunities to sell their certified crops. Under mass balance, companies may mix Fairtrade and non-Fairtrade products during the manufacturing process as long as the actual volumes of sales on Fairtrade terms are tracked and audited through the supply chain.

This process ensures that the amount of ingredients in the final Fairtrade labelled product matches the amount sold by the farmers. Given the depth of poverty experienced by many small-scale farmers, and the urgency of their need for better terms of trade, this is a workable solution that has given thousands of farmers the opportunity to benefit from Fairtrade.

How to identify traceable products

This system of mass balance in Fairtrade is only allowed for cocoa, tea, fruit juices and sugar, but even in these categories, it is possible to find fully traceable products. Fairtrade requires companies to use a FAIRTRADE Mark with an arrow next to it to direct consumers to information on the back of the packaging that explains more about the ingredients’ traceability.

The same traceability rules apply for composite products, which are products made from more than one ingredient. For example, a biscuit may contain cocoa and sugar traded using mass balance. This will be also reflected in the information on the back of the package.

Wherever possible, Fairtrade encourages companies to move towards full traceability.

You can be confident that when you see the FAIRTRADE Mark on packaging, producers are getting the full benefit of Fairtrade sales. Read more about the different FAIRTRADE Marks.