There are so many marketing terms on food and beauty products, suggesting those products are better for the environment and/or better for society. Some of the terms and labels are regulated to verify that the company follows the ethical practices. But some terms are not regulated at all, and we may not meet our expectations for these terms. The terms “Fair Trade” and “Ethical Trade” are certified from different groups that have different requirements. “All Natural,” “Green, ” and “Environmentally Friendly” mean not be what you expect. The concern is where advertising is misleading and unethical practices continue without reform. Some companies claim to be socially responsible, but they continue to source materials from unethical producers. If the company is not willing to submit for certification of defined practices, how can we trust their claims of socially responsible.
Here is a simple definition of commonly used terms:
- Fair Trade – greater equity in international trade by offering better trading conditions and securing rights for marginalized producers and workers.
- Ethical Trading – fair labor and socially responsible practices reaching throughout supply chain.
- Social Responsibility – being accountable for actions and decisions on others and the natural environment.
- Sustainable Consumption – making and/or using a product with concern about environmental impact.
The FLO International Fairtrade certification system covers a growing range of products, including bananas, honey, oranges, cocoa, coffee, shortbread, cotton, dried and fresh fruits and vegetables, juices, nuts and oil seeds, quinoa, rice, spices, sugar, tea and wine. The Fair Trade Certified Mark is regulated by Fair Trade USA. It appears on products as an independent guarantee that disadvantaged producers in the developing world are getting a better deal.
The Ethical Trade Initiative (UK based) has a list of member companies but does not have a logo for certified companies. One of my favorite brands of tea includes a logo and the term “Ethical Trade” but is not included on the member list. This term is not regulated or certified in the US, so it will take more research for me to verify the claims by this tea company.
The Eco Trade Logo is certified by a North American group and their standards can be reviewed here, and in general certifies that production addresses multiple environmental attributes throughout the entire life cycle of the product or service. The terms “Green,” “Natural,” and “Environmentally Friendly” are not regulated and do not provide a similar assurance of ethical practices.
Socially Responsible does not currently have a certification. ISO 26000 or simply ISO SR was just released by the International Standardization Organization and only offers guidance, not requirements.
Social Accountability is regulated by Social Accountability International 8000 SA8000 which defines the set of principles to meet certification.
How to Verify this information:
- Ethical Trade Initiative (UK based)
- Green Facts
- Search these terms in Wikipedia, much of the information above is sourced from there.
Other Blog Posts on this subject:
- The Geography Spot
- Strategies for Ethical and Sustainable Purchasing
- Veggie Revolution’s review of Bamboo clothing
- Ten Thousand Villages of Austin
Check out Good Guide for an evaluation of health, environment, and social impacts for a particular product.