A number of different ethical schemes exist in the food sector, including Max Havelaar fair trade, Rainforest Alliance, Equitrade, and Utz. These each have their own set of standards and aims, and are communicated to consumers using different logos and tools.
Growth has been rapid as Europeans are engaging in the drive towards more ethical consumption. Last year the European Commission estimated the market to be worth around €1.5bn at retail, having grown 70 fold since 1999.
The new opinion holds that the “dynamic and market-responsive nature of the consumer labels is encouraged by their voluntary nature”. The next step is to improve their impact, transparency and credibility – and that will require more resources and better regulatory support.
Authored by UK-based rapporteurs Richard Adams and Madi Sharma, the opinion was adopted by the EESC this week.
The plethora of schemes means there is some fear of crowing and confusion in the fair trade space, however. The Adams’ and Sharma’s opinion holds harmonisation should occur where different approaches agree, and that the individual factors that distinguish them should be communicated in a clear and transparent way.
Sustainability labels are seen as a positive direction for international trade, and the rapporteurs say it is also time to start exploring how standards and processing can influence EESC’s engagement with the World Trade Organisation.
The rapporteurs called on the EU to better support civil society organisations, so that they can develop more consumer awareness, and develop sustainability assurance schemes.
Last May the European Commission adopted a communication which set out an intention to explore the scope for more dialogue, cooperation and (where appropriate) convergence between private labelling schemes, so as to promote any synergies and enhance clarity for consumers.
It also said it intends to continue funding for relevant fair trade and other sustainable trade-related activities, and does not exclude the possibility of financing targeted actions.