How Fairtrade certification works

The Fairtrade certification system is rigorous, independent, and in line with best-in-class certification practice.

526 Auditor Inspects Producer Papers 870
Fairtrade uses a rigorous certification approach, including on-site audits by independent inspectors. Here, an auditor inspects paperwork at an Ecuadoran banana producer organization.
Image © Eduardo Bluhm

Independent certifiers audit producers, traders and companies to check compliance with our economic, social and environmental standards, including that producers receive the Fairtrade Minimum Price and Premium.

Through our assurance system, we make sure our certification and licensing bodies operate effectively and independently to uphold the integrity of the FAIRTRADE Mark. This scheme is compliant with ISEAL’s Assurance Code, an internationally recognized code for sustainability standards. Read more about our assurance system.

About the Certifiers

FLOCERT is the largest certifier for Fairtrade, responsible for the certification of all producers and most traders. FLOCERT operates a transparent, independent and globally consistent certification system. In addition to complying with Fairtrade’s certifier requirements, it is accredited under ISO 17065, the leading international quality norm for product certifiers. A few national Fairtrade organisations (Australia/New Zealand and Japan) certify traders in those countries.

All Fairtrade certifiers comply with Fairtrade International’s Requirements for Assurance Providers and are monitored by an Oversight Committee, which reports to Fairtrade International’s Board.

Certifiers have auditors who are highly qualified, usually based in the countries and regions where they work, and familiar with local cultures, languages, and legal systems. All auditors are examined on their skills and receive annual training per Fairtrade requirements.

To ensure auditor competence, quality and credibility, Fairtrade certifiers are required to ensure that auditors are fully impartial, there is regular rotation of auditors, auditor fees are solely paid by the certifier, and the audit report is fully documented for transparency.

Producer audits

All producer organizations – whether small-scale producer groups, plantations or contract production set-ups – must go through an initial on-site audit before they can sell Fairtrade certified products.

17479 Auditor Inspects Plants 870
Independent auditors speak with farmers and workers, visit fields and facilities, and can opt to conduct unannounced audits.
Image © Tatiana Marin

The size of Fairtrade producer organizations varies greatly, from small cooperatives with a few farmer members, to large plantations with hundreds of workers, to large cooperatives with thousands of farmer members. The time the auditor spends in the field depends on the size of the producer organization (number of farmer members or workers), its complexity, the number of certified products it wants to sell as Fairtrade, and other factors.

Following the physical audit, an audit report is sent to FLOCERT for evaluation and approval or to follow up on any non-conformities identified during the audit. The decision to certify is made by FLOCERT, and only after all non-conformities have been corrected.

Following a successful certification for a producer organization, a three-year certification cycle starts. During this time, up to two confirmation audits normally take place depending on FLOCERT’s assessment of the organization’s individual situation. This assessment is based on monitoring of routine data, including amounts received and paid (including Fairtrade Premium), as well as the individual organization’s set-up.

In addition to the regular audits, FLOCERT conducts unannounced audits at any time if there are indications of additional risk, such as specific allegations, expansion of the organization’s certification scope, or product- or country-specific risks.

A renewal audit is conducted during the third year. If the renewal audit is concluded successfully, FLOCERT issues a new certificate and the next three-year certification cycle begins.

Fairtrade’s approach is a balance between strictness and encouraging development. Fairtrade certification bodies will suspend or decertify a producer organisation or trader where major core requirements have not been upheld; however, overall the focus is on giving Fairtrade producers the opportunity to address problems and improve over time.

Trader audits

FLOCERT and several national Fairtrade organizations also certify traders and companies against the Fairtrade Trader Standard. Traders and companies wishing to sell Fairtrade products often first receive a temporary ‘permission to trade’ after a desktop assessment and prior to their first audit. It is valid for up to nine months until the first formal audit takes place. This enables traders to build up a history in the Fairtrade system that can be audited and enables producers to benefit from new buyers coming on board.

At the first audit, the auditor checks on-site if all Fairtrade transactions were conducted in line with the corresponding Fairtrade Standards. The certification cycles and auditing patterns for producers described in the above section also apply for traders.

17699 Trader Auditor Speaks Coffee 870
Businesses that trade or sell Fairtrade products are also audited for compliance with the Fairtrade Standards. Here, an auditor speaks with staff at a German coffee company.
Image © Manuel Pandalis / FLOCERT

More information