Joint response to Ökotest article

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On Friday 27th July, the German magazine Ökotest published an article reflecting on the results of their test: “Fairer Handel. Unfaire Geschäfte” (Fair Trade: Unfair Businesses), determining which standards/labels should be considered ‘fair’ and which ‘unfair’. Various product categories were reviewed, among them, coffee and cocoa.

In order to conclude whether a given product is "fair“, Ökotest defined four criteria: a guaranteed minimum price for producers, pre-financing, legally established minimum wage for workers and compliance with the core labor standards of the International Labour Organization (ILO), most notably a ban on child labor.
These criteria coincide with the standards of the Fairtrade Label. Anything which differs from this is considered, per se, to be “unfair“ by Ökotest with gradual levels.

In response to the article, the 4C Association, Rainforest Alliance/SAN and UTZ Certified would like to state the following:

  • We welcome all efforts to help raise awareness amongst consumers about sustainable production. However, we share the opinion that the test performed by Ökotest is unconstructive and contributes to hamper joint efforts between the different standards to advance sustainability in tropical farming. It is important to note that the vast majority of tropical commodities such as coffee, cocoa, tea, bananas or pineapples are still farmed unsustainably. In the case of coffee, for example, less than ten per cent of the total coffee volume sold is produced according to sustainable standards . These unsustainable farming practices have devastating environmental, social and economic consequences for farming communities around the world. Farmers that work with the Rainforest Alliance/SAN, Utz Certified, 4C Association and others do so because they see the benefit of comprehensive farm management standards that help them protect their environment, their workers, and improve their overall economic situation.  Ignoring their commitment to certification/verification and sustainability in the way the Oketest article did risks undermining the good work these farmers are doing and threatens to undermine their benefits.
  • The three organizations are trustworthy sustainability standard setting organizations which are full members of the ISEAL Alliance as Fairtrade International is. As such, they are adhering to the ISEAL Codes of Good Practice, which ensure that their practices are transparent, credible and effective in a mutual validation process.
  • In February 2011 a “Joint Statement” was agreed upon by the certification standard-setting organizations Fairtrade International, Rainforest Alliance/SAN and UTZ Certified, underlining the willingness for collective cooperation for the benefit of farmers in the producing countries. Its core statement, the goal that unites all these organizations: transforming tropical agriculture with certification as credible system for doing so. The organizations acknowledge that there are different ways to successfully transform tropical agriculture to the benefit of farmers in origin countries. For its part, the 4C Association as the global sustainable coffee platform is not a certification system. The 4C Association has defined a baseline sustainability standard and verification system and does not allow companies to use a label on packaging. The baseline standard of the 4C Association is regarded as a credible, valuable first step towards achieving certification. Both the Rainforest Alliance/SAN and UTZ Certified are members of the 4C Association.
  • Recently, the Committee on Sustainable Assessment (COSA) presented first insights and findings of its latest report at the Rio+20 Earth Summit. According to its findings, all certification standards studied – Fairtrade, UTZ Certified, Rainforest Alliance and others –  contribute positively to the sustainable development of tropical farming communities (concretely coffee and cocoa) through increased yields and price premiums or other researched indicators. The findings show that all certification systems across 6 countries delivered on average 34% higher net income to the farmer. For more details, please contact COSA directly:

The 4C baseline sustainability standard is a first step for farmers towards achieving certification.

  • The Ökotest evaluation published on 27 of July, 2012 contradicts previous information published by the magazine that supported the positive impact of other sustainability standards. For instance, in an article published in September 2009, Ökotest reported that, “the producers also profit from certification even without an established minimum price (in this case in reference to Rainforest Alliance Certified™)” (Ökotest 9/2009, page 38).
  • Finally, the 4C Association, the Rainforest Alliance/SAN and UTZ Certified would like to state that they do NOT consider their standards to be fair trade neither do they claim to be fair trade. Each system has its own objectives and targets. Therefore the three organizations found it surprising and disappointing to have been compared against the distinctive features of Fairtrade, with the consequence of being devalued as “unfair”. Ökotest has missed an excellent opportunity to educate consumers about the many paths to sustainability being chosen by farmers and the broad positive impacts associated with each standard compared to outmoded, conventional approaches that keep farmers in poverty and destroy the environment.

To find out more about UTZ Certified, the Rainforest Alliance/SAN and the 4C Association, please go to: