How Does Rainforest Alliance Certified™ Compare to Fair Trade Certified™?
The Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade are both international organizations committed to improving the lives of farmers and farm workers in the developing world. The Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal can be found on an array of farm goods -- from coffee and bananas to flowers and ferns -- as well as timber, paper and other forest-derived products. The Fair Trade Certified™ label appears on an assortment of agricultural goods, including tea, sugar, coffee and vanilla. While the Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade share similar missions and goals, they differ in focus and strategy.
Fairtrade labelling standards are designed to tackle poverty and empower producers in the world’s poorest countries, giving them a guaranteed price for their products. Rather than emphasizing how products are traded, Rainforest Alliance certification -- awarded to farms that meet the comprehensive standards of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) -- focuses on how farms are managed. The SAN standards encompass all aspects of sustainability (social, environmental and economic) and empower farmers with the knowledge and skills to negotiate for themselves in the global marketplace. Farmers engaged in the Rainforest Alliance Certified program learn to grow smart, increasing their bottom line today, and conserving the fertile soils and natural resources on which their children will depend tomorrow.
The SAN standards focus equally on the three pillars of sustainability, rather than biasing one (such as economic) over the others. They are built on the idea that environmental, social and economic sustainability are interlocking circles that cannot be pulled apart. The SAN standards include the most comprehensive environmental criteria in existence. They cover an array of areas, including: soil and water conservation; the protection of wildlife and forests; planning and monitoring; responsible waste management; and the prohibition of dangerous pesticides and genetically modified organisms. Additionally, the SAN standards encompass a range of worker protection issues identified by the International Labour Organization, including the right to organize; the right to a safe, clean working environment; the right to be paid at least the national minimum wage; the right to dignified housing (including potable water); access to medical care for workers and their families; and access to free education for children. Farmers who work with the Rainforest Alliance also learn to increase productivity and control costs, often producing higher quality crops that can earn a better market price.
The Rainforest Alliance works with farms of all sizes, from small cooperatives to large plantations. By choosing to collaborate with large plantations with large workforces, we address the needs of the poorest of the poor: those who do not own land, including migrant workers and employees on large plantations or estates. Our standards help reduce poverty and encourage better employment practices on a large scale, and ensure biodiversity conservation on huge swathes of land. In coffee, Fair Trade works only with smallholder producers operating in cooperatives. (In tea, bananas and flowers -- where bigger estates are more common -- Fair Trade also engages with large farms.)
Because we believe that companies deserve recognition for their commitments to conservation, we allow those using at least 30 percent Rainforest Alliance Certified content to put the seal on packaging. Thirty percent certified content from a multi-national brand can have a huge impact on wildlife and workers. Moreover, by allowing 30 percent content, we also give smaller companies a point of entry. Because we are committed to transparency, if a product includes less than 90 percent certified content, the amount of certified content must be clearly indicated on packaging. Furthermore, while we allow 30 percent as an entry point, we are continuously working with companies to scale up their quantities. View our use of seal guidelines.
For more information, read an independent report by Consumers International comparing an assortment of coffee certification programs. Consumer Reports' Eco-Labels Center also offers an independent assessment of a variety of product labels, including the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal and the Fair Trade Certified mark.