business corporate responsibility fair trade shopping

Who are the WFTO?

The International Federation of Alternative Trade (IFAT) rebranded and became the World Fair Trade Organisation in October 2008. It is currently mounting a major campaign to raise awareness, with a World Fair Trade Day planned for May 09.

How are they different from the Fairtrade Foundation? Well, the two groups have differing visions for fair trade. The Foundation, who use this symbol as part of the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation, certify individual products.

They also focus on the producers, which creates the unfortunate scenario that you can buy clothes (in Topshop for example) that carry this logo but were made in sweatshops – only the cotton is Fairtrade certified, not the labour. As the website describes: “The Mark indicates that the product has been certified to give a better deal to the producers involved – it does not act as an endorsement of an entire company’s business practices.”

Despite the loopholes, there is good logic behind the Foundation’s choice to certify products rather than companies. It makes it possible for big companies to start out on fairer trade, rather than have to wait until they can re-structure their entire business. It acknowledges that larger companies, such as supermarkets, can only change through a long process. It does however create the slightly hollow sight of Tesco or Asda selling Fairtrade versions of their products, safe in the knowledge that they’ve catered for the ‘ethical market’ and are now off the hook on all their other lines.

IFAT chose a different route from the beginning, and have certified whole companies. Only businesses that guarantee 100% fair trade practises will be certified, and the mark is broader than raw materials too, used for handicrafts and clothing. It’s a much more robust ethical choice, and more exclusive because of it.

Companies listed by the World Fair Trade Organisation become members of the FT100, the index of 100% fair trade companies. Members you might recognise include Traidcraft, Oxfam shops, and Cafedirect.

WFTO is newer and considerably smaller as an organisation, but will be much more prominent by the end of the year.

Confusing? I’m afraid so. (If any representatives of either organisation want to comment or clarify, they’d be welcome!) Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, the whole Fairtrade movement is only the first steps towards trade justice, and I hope that we’ll be able to leave the whole debate behind when the World Trade Organisation steps up. Until then, support either one or both as you see fit.

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  1. The difference between the two organizations is clear as you have pointed out. One certifies individual products,the other entire organizations. By creating organization certification the WFTO will be creating market access for millions of producers who make products currently Fair Traded but not labelled. The WFTO certification tool (working title SFTMS – Sustainable Fair Trade Management System_ will operate anywhere in the supply chain and will be a transformational market tool. The two organizations work closely together and have recently agreed the the criteria for Fair Trade. The WFTO membership ouches 110 000 people with sales of USD.2.2bn. Your support for World Fair Trade Day 09 MAY 09 is critical to making those billions turn to trillions and make the world a safer, fairer place.

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