Rainforest Alliance Or Fairtrade

I got a coffee at a service station and the vending machine was making a big deal about it being Rainforest Alliance.

I know what Fairtrade is. It is a certificated programme that ensures than producers receive a fair price for their goods and receive community enhancing projects. It is not beyond being corrupted but it seems to be the best thing we have to ensure producers are not exploited. But what is Rainforest Alliance?

McDonalds and Coffee Nation seem to offer Fairtrade tea and coffee but on closer inspection we see it is not, it is Rainforest Alliance. On their website they say the following:

The Rainforest Alliance is an independent and internationally renowned non-profit organisation and only farms that meet specific standards balancing all aspects of production, including protecting the environment, the rights and welfare of workers and the interest of coffee-growing communities are awarded certification.

So what is the difference between Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance?

Fairtrade is independently assessed and monitored to ensure its high standards. The lower standards of Rainforest Alliance require only 30% of their product to be independently assessed and monitored. Rainforest Alliance also costs less for the big manufacturers as they do not have to pay for use of the logo and there is not a minimum price to pay to growers.

Many people are now not sure there is any difference between the two. I was at Fairtrade meeting and one person claimed that Rainforest Alliance is a non-standard to dupe the unaware. I don’t know enough to know if this is true or not. I do know that the emphasis of Fairtrade is on the people rather that just the environment. When I buy Fairtrade I am doing so because I want justice for the growers and do not want them to be exploited just so I can have a nice coffee or bar of chocolate.

I have just been into the kitchen of our church and found a jar of Kenko coffee. I looked to see if it was Fairtrade. It was not, it was Rainforest Alliance. I wonder if the buyer knew the difference.

4 thoughts on “Rainforest Alliance Or Fairtrade

  1. Hi Graham,
    Thought I’d chime in briefly here to give you the full picture. Rainforest Alliance certification does not have lower standards – all farms that are Rainforest Alliance Certified must meet strict requirements on social, environmental and economic aspects (40% of the criteria are actually social) of farm management. Rather than getting involved in the trade of the product, we look holistically at how the farm is managed.

    Products that have at least 30% certified content are allowed to carry the seal if they indicate the percentage right below the seal. Companies that do this must sign an agreement to scale up to 100%. Sometimes this can take time because the supply (in quantity and coffee regions) doesn’t always meet the demands of large companies right away. By doing this we are both helping to increase the demand for Rainforest Alliance Certified commodities and working to increase the supply. What matters to the Rainforest Alliance is the impact on the land and workers. So a company buying 30% of 100 tons has more of an impact than one buying 100% of 10 tons. What is important is that every ton of Rainforest Alliance Certified product used is helping farmers and farming communities to better protect their environment, provide decent wages to their workers, and provide the communities access to education, healthcare and decent housing.

    You make another point about Rainforest Alliance Certified products being cheaper for manufacturers because they don’t have to pay to use the logo. I wonder if you know that that money, required by other certification bodies, goes into the marketing of the seal, rather than going back to the farmers. That may be why you’ve heard so little from us – a very tiny budget!

    And finally, to your point about minimum price… We are teaching farmers to farm smart, growing their bottom line today and conserving the fertile soils and natural resources on which their children will depend. Rainforest Alliance certification takes a different approach, putting the emphasis on improved farming practices rather than on alternative marketing schemes. The recipe for economic success for any farmer contains four essential ingredients: crop quality, productivity, cost control and sale price. The Rainforest program addresses all four. The program is a hand up for those who need it, not a hand out. It gives farmers more control over their own futures. It empowers them to be better business people – and to dream of a sustainably successful future. Higher prices are important, and most farmers in the Rainforest program are getting significantly higher prices for their goods. But farmgate prices are not a panacea. We see many farmers earning high prices and still failing. Successful farmers learn to control costs, increase production, improve quality, build their own competence in trading, build workforce and community cohesion and pride, manage their precious natural resources and protect the environment.

    Hope this gives you more of the information you were looking for!

  2. The Fairtrade system also works closely with farmers to improve their businesses and to move towards more efficient systems, eg helping them form cooperatives to have more bargaining power and share skills etc. And the licensee fees for Fairtrade products DO NOT simply go into marketing, though this is important. Often it is the awareness raising that Fairtrade does around issues of social and environmental concern in global commodity supply chains that creates more general interest by consumers in other labels such as RA. Also much of the license fee goes into helping create Fairtrade standards for new products and countries to benefit more producers.

  3. Well that was interesting, i’ve been an employee for Coffee Nation for some time now & i can assure you we don’t advertise Fairtrade & if you read the coffeenation website ‘ we don’t do tea ‘, while your there my friend also have a look at the link ‘ know your farmer ‘, i suggest doing a little more research next time.

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