B Corp and Fairtrade — how these two world-leading certifications work together for a fairer world

Originally published at: B Corp and Fairtrade — how these two world-leading certifications work together for a fairer world - B Lab Australia & New Zealand

Your company wants to make its sustainability credentials ‘legit’. You are passionate about tackling poverty, transparency in your supply chain and paying workers (more than) a living wage. You do your research and look around your industry. Some companies are B Corp certified, others have products that are Fairtrade certified, and then there’s a few who have both. Both drive positive social and environmental outcomes through business. So, which certification do you go for? 

While there’s a little more on the line than the decision between hard shell and soft shell tacos, the answer really is: ¿Por qué no los dos? (why not both?). Let’s unpack the synergies between B Corp and Fairtrade certifications, and how they complement each other to create a fairer world for us all.

Image by ranplett from Getty Images

All’s fair in love and trade — about Fairtrade certification

Changing the way trade works by putting farmers and workers first for over 30 years, Fairtrade International is an independent non-profit organisation dedicated to creating a fair and sustainable future rooted in social justice. Designed to tackle poverty and empower producers in some of the economically poorest countries in the world, it is the world’s most recognised label for social justice and sustainability.

From your favourite drop of extra strong coffee to that silky smooth chocolate you love, there are a whole host of products that carry the Fairtrade label — 30,000 in fact, and growing every day. Some of the Fairtrade fare you’re most likely to see on supermarket shelves are bananas, honey, cotton, nuts, and sugar — but you might be surprised to find out that things like sports balls, flowers and quinoa also make this ever-growing list.

Similar to B Corp certification, the Fairtrade certification system is rigorous, independent, and in line with best-in-class certification practice. That means, products carrying the ‘FAIRTRADE Mark’ have been measured against the Fairtrade Standards, which include a range of economic, environmental and social criteria that must be met by producers and traders to acquire or retain certification.

Putting people first and combating climate change

Fairtrade is all about empowering people — the farmers and workers who work hard to produce the things we love, and couldn’t live without (in the case of your morning coffee). 

As the name suggests, the movement is about trading more fairly in order to tackle poverty and improve working conditions for people experiencing some of the most stark disadvantages in the world. And, of course, the organisation is also passionate about combating climate change — because often these same groups of people are suffering the most from the effects of changing weather patterns, unpredictable seasons and fluctuating temperatures.

80 percent of the world’s food comes from 500 million small-scale farms with some studies suggesting that a rise of just one degree could lead to reductions of between five and ten percent in the yields of major cereal crops. If they suffer, we all feel the consequences.

— Source: Climate change will cut crop yields: study

While the communities served by Fairtrade have contributed very little to climate change, without being paid a fair price for their work, they won’t be able to invest what they need to protect their natural resources, and therefore livelihoods.

Image source: Fairtrade

A partnership made in supply chain heaven

To bring these two distinct but complementary movements together, in 2021, B Lab and Fairtrade International signed a formal partnership to work together and share knowledge in service of our joint vision for a more inclusive, regenerative economy. Whereas B Corp certification is aimed at the level of an entire business’ operations, Fairtrade certification is largely aimed at the individual product level (and subsequent supply chain), all adding up to a greener, cleaner and more sustainable future for all.

Rather than working in silos and keeping your knowledge or limited resources close to your chest, forging partnerships are critical to effecting meaningful change, especially when it comes to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). More than a global call to action to pursue peace and prosperity for people and the planet, the SDGs are a clarion call for collaboration and working together for a common good. And as two organisations who are passionate about responsible business practices, sustainable supply chains, and global corporate transparency — it just makes sense.

But the partnership between B Lab and Fairtrade International didn’t just appear out of the blue. It’s something that had been marinating in the minds of the B Corp movement’s founders for a while.

“When my Co-founders and I first had aspirations to design the B Corp certification over 15 years ago, Fairtrade International’s certification served as both inspiration and proof that businesses could be a force for good.

“This is a long-awaited partnership for B Lab as well as the B Corp movement and it’s only fitting that our organisations join forces now at a time when sustainability standards for businesses are no longer recognised as just a ‘nice to have’, but as a critical tool in transforming the global economy to benefit all people, communities, and the planet.”

— Andrew Kassoy, Co-founder and former CEO of B Lab Global

What might this look like in practice? Building on the shared foundation of wanting to take action on the SDGs and lead the shift toward a stakeholder-driven economy, Fairtrade and B Lab will work together to develop shared standards, advocacy platforms, public awareness campaigns, and mobilise our communities to redesign the global economy in a more sustainable and inclusive way.

Image by JTSorrell from Getty Images

How Fairtrade International and B Corps Are Strengthening Supply Chains

Recognising Fairtrade in the B Impact Assessment

In a certified Fairtrade nutshell, B Lab’s social and environmental business standards define how businesses can be a force for good. Based on stakeholder input, research, and established best practices, these high standards are the basis for B Corp Certification requirements as well as B Lab’s suite of impact measurement and management tools like the B Impact Assessment or ‘BIA’.

The free tool used by more than 100,000 companies globally, the BIA has been developed and refined by B Lab over 15 years to measure and manage what matters most. It is a standalone, confidential and independently governed technology platform that provides a comprehensive, holistic and rigorous framework for any company looking to measure and improve its impact for stakeholders, providing a ‘B Impact Score’ and plenty of industry benchmarks and case studies to support you on your journey.

Given that Fairtrade certification is also based on a set of rigorous standards that incorporate a holistic blend of social, economic, and environmental criteria, companies can gain points in the BIA under questions related to the ‘Community’ impact area of the BIA, which looks at supply chain and sourcing practices, among other things.

Image by alejandrophotography from Getty Images

Want to unlock a higher score on the B Impact Assessment? Create an impactful business by design

Fairtrade certification is recognised in the B Impact Assessment under one of the Community Impact Business Models called ‘Supply Chain Poverty Alleviation’. This model gives credit to companies that reduce poverty in their supply chain through trade terms, positive labour conditions, and support for underserved suppliers in low-income, poor, or very poor markets through fair trade and direct trade.

Who are the certified Fairtrade B Corps?

Given the complementary nature of the two certifications, and the shared commitment to driving positive social and environmental outcomes through business, it should come as no surprise that there are a lovely bunch of businesses in our region who have both B Corp certification and products that are Fairtrade Certified. Shall we meet a few of them?

There’s recently certified NZ fashion brand Kowtow, whose business is built on the concept of fairtrade from day dot. A seed-to-garment brand made entirely from Fairtrade organic cotton, Kowtow’s Fairtrade certification meant that they were already primed to meet B Corp standards.

“Fairtrade is one of the largest movements in the protection of workers’ rights. We want every one of our products to make a direct positive contribution to a better life for farmers, workers and their families.

Then, a few years ago we started to notice other brands we admired becoming B Corps. It sparked our curiosity and very quickly we realised that the B Corp movement aligned with our purpose to bring positive social and economic change – not only for our business but for our community and the environment.”

— Gosia Piatek, Founder of Kowtow

Image: Kowtow Clothing

Fairtrade and organic clothing label Kowtow is now a Certified B Corporation ↗

Other businesses from across the B Corp movement who are also proudly Fairtrade certified include the delicious goods from Eat Me Chutneys, the delectable teas from T2, the designer wares from Thread Harvest and Little Yellow Bird, and the distinguished drops from Sample Coffee, Jasper Coffee, Peoples Coffee Limited, Montville Coffee, Sprout Coffee, and more.

And for those businesses who already have Fairtrade certification, you should feel pretty confident that you stand in good stead to pursue B Corp certification.

Why the answer to the certification question is an ‘and’ not an ‘or’

The question is not whether to certify as a B Corp or get that Fairtrade badge, but rather an ‘and.’ Why? Because we know that you want to do as much as humanly possible to make this world fairer for all. 

As our Co-founder Andrew Kassoy said: “sustainability standards for businesses are no longer recognised as just a ‘nice to have’, but as a critical tool in transforming the global economy to benefit all people, communities, and the planet.”

By choosing to pursue both B Corp and Fairtrade certifications, your business can show that its commitment to sustainability and social impact runs deep throughout your entire supply chain and operations, and it shows that you are willing to be held accountable for all of it.

To find out more about Fairtrade certification for your products, visit fairtrade.net and to start the process of B Corp certification, reach out to the B Lab Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand team or get started on the B Impact Assessment.

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