Purchasing food is confusing these days. There is a deluge of different organic, regional, fair trade and sustainability certification labels to confuse you and make you unsure what to buy. In addition, it is often not openly communicated how compliance with a certification scheme’s standards is monitored, what these standards are, and what costs producers have to bear to be part of it.
This is where the Fairdirect e.V. association comes in with a fundamentally new, innovative way for certification. We want to make it as affordable for producers and as transparent for customers as possible, at the same time. Key elements are an opportunity to contact the actual producer directly, and our product fairness information label.
Product Fairness Information Label
This label on a product shows this product’s level of fairness as a percentage value on a colored range. The percentage is an aggregate, calculated by Fairdirect from data about animal welfare and slaughter, mode of production, production location of raw and auxiliary materials, amount of transportation, fair compensation for workers along the chain of production, energy use and processing quality.
This data is raised from producers and checked by Fairdirect testers who visit producers on-site, get an overview of the conditions there, and check individual data points for accuracy. They write a review and publish it on the producer’s page on the Fairdirect marketplace platform Epelia.
This webpage with all its reviews is accessible from each product item of a producer by scanning the QR code on the packaging (see illustration). In addition to the price and the usual information expected from a prcoduct’s description, this page also contains the local purchase options (e.g. a specific farmers market, a Fairdirect shelf in a specific shop etc.). It’s also an online shop, allowing the user to purchase this product, other products of the same producer / same shipment cell, and many more products, directly from their producers.
- “Regional” beef from an imported animal that underwent intensive feeding at a regional factory farm using Argentine feed pellets will fare worse in this scheme than beef from free-roaming animals on Argentine pastures, processed in Argentine by fairly paid workers.
- A “certified organic” product harvested and processed in China under exploitative work conditions will fare worse than a regional product produced in organic but uncertified agriculture, using fair wages and short transport links.
- A peppermint tea with a fair trade certification, which was, say, produced in Egypt under irrigation and with chemical fertilizers and then transported over a long distance will fare worse than “naturally grown” peppermint tea from regional plants, if fair wages were paid for harvest and processing workers.
All interested individuals can become Fairdirect testers by taking part in a course and examination online. They evaluate producers according to a scheme standardized by Fairdirect and publish their reviews on the producer’s page on the Fairdirect marketplace platform Epelia.
Producers compensate testers for their worktime (which can also be in kind, using their products) and are members of the Fairdirect e.V. association. Apart from that, taking part in the Fairdirect certification scheme does not incur any costs. In addition, “normal” consumers can also contribute short reviews after visiting a producer for a purchase on-site. By these means, the product quickly gets a realistic representation online. With a scheme like this, producers can show without costly certification processes that they value certain quality criteria during production.
This objective evaluation can classify all food items by their degree of fair production practices. But of course, producers with not-so-fair food products will have little interest in getting evaluated by Fairdirect. So in the longer term, pressure from Fairdirect-associated food retailers and from policy makers working in consumer protection will be an important ingredient. If obligatory, a product fairness label like the one proposed here would motivate producers to switch to more sustainable practices and to grant fair market access to the small producers of required raw materials.