17 Mar 2021

Times are always changing. How Do the Fairtrade Standards keep up?

Climate change, new technologies, sustainability concerns - global trade has changed in the last decade, and producers face unprecedented challenges. How are Fairtrade Standards kept up to date as times change? How do we make sure requirements are fair, sustainable and reflect the input of farmers themselves?

Consultation work
Field staff and producers attend a consultation at Fairtrade International, Bonn, Germany.
Zoe Stephenson

The answer is: we ask. When it’s time to review one of our Standards – whether for small-scale producers, plantations, or traders, and for any product we certify – we run a thorough consultation process to get the opinions and viewpoints of our stakeholders.

Who are these stakeholders? They are farmers, workers, traders and companies that source, manufacture and sell Fairtrade products. They are also everyday people who care about making trade fairer!

We asked Alina Amador, Head of Standards at Fairtrade International, to answer your burning questions about our Standards review process.

Why does Fairtrade have open consultations when reviewing and updating the Standards? Who can participate?

Alina: The consultations are a way of giving stakeholders – the people and organizations that have to abide by and implement the Fairtrade Standards – the opportunity to give input. It’s a way for those affected by the standards to make their voices heard. This includes producers, consumers, traders and companies that source Fairtrade.

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What does the typical consultation process look like?

Alina: When a consultation begins, the Standards team at Fairtrade International contacts all stakeholders that produce, trade or sell the product that is affected and other interested parties (civil society organizations, product experts, amongst others). We follow our standard operating procedures which are designed in compliance with all requirements of the ISEAL Code of Good Practice for Setting Social and Environmental Standards.

We usually hold one round of consultation, which takes 30 to 60 days, depending on the size of the project. If the first round of consultation does not lead to clear input in favor of one option, we carry out a second round of around 30 days. For new standards, a second round of consultation is always done.

There are a variety of ways that stakeholders can provide input during consultations. The three regional Fairtrade producer networks and our Standards team organize consultation workshops or webinars to solicit input from producers. The 19 national Fairtrade organizations can also organize meetings with their stakeholders, such as companies that buy Fairtrade commodities to use in their packaged products. Other stakeholders – including the general public – can also participate in our open consultations by filling out a publicly available form and emailing it to our Standards team.

How is input used and who decides?

Alina: Our Fairtrade Standards Committee reviews and makes a decision on the final proposed Standards revisions. The committee is made up of representatives from producers (producer networks), traders, and national Fairtrade organizations (who represent the perspectives of their markets). Once this is done, the Standard document is updated and posted to our website. The three Fairtrade producer networks help to communicate changes to the relevant producers in their regions, while the national Fairtrade organizations bring the relevant information to their commercial partners.

Has the process been adapted due to the COVID pandemic?

Alina: The main impact is that we are not able to coordinate the consultation workshops with our producer networks due to travel restrictions and large group gathering limitations. We are now investing more in producing videos and in making the survey consultation tools accessible. The producer networks have also been instrumental in facilitating online webinars to bring more discussion opportunities for producer organizations during this time. Another key factor is that the attention of many producer organizations and traders has been diverted and in many cases it has become a matter of survival. The ability to participate meaningfully in a Fairtrade Standards consultation is reduced. For this reason, several open standard review projects have been postponed until the situation resolves or becomes more manageable.

On the other hand, we have also learned a lot in the past year about the best ways to hold virtual consultations and stressed the need to further explore new ways to do so, which we may continue even post-COVID to allow for even more participation in the future.

What are some recent or current consultations going on? What are key topics?

Alina: We have three consultations running right now and one that just wrapped up in December, all of them including really important issues especially related to our increasing drive toward living incomes and living wages. Standards are one of the ways we can work on this – along with services for producer organizations, targeted programmes, partnerships and advocacy.

Recent:

Living Wage in Banana Hired Labour Organizations focused on proposals to ensure banana plantations work towards closing the gap to reach living wages. Timing: This decision was announced in December

Cocoa Standard review

Topics include requirements to promote achieving living income goals; child labour and forced labour identification and remediation systems; environmental requirements to address deforestation risks, mitigate climate change and promote biodiversity protection; unfair trading practices; alignment with the new African Regional Standards and more. Timing: Expected consultation period is the second quarter of 2021.

Coffee Standard review

Topics include environmental requirements to address sustainable agricultural practices, mitigate climate change and promote biodiversity protection; child labour and forced labour identification and remediation systems; unfair trading practices and more. Timing: Consultation was open until Feb 19th 2021.

Tea Standard review

Topics include a floor wages, gender based violence, working and housing conditions and more. The pricing-specific review for tea was completed and announced in December. Timing: Expected decision by the Standard Committee in March 2021.

Curious to read more?

Read about how we set standards!

Interview with
Alina Amador, Head of Standards at Fairtrade International