When I buy fair trade coffee I know that every bit of it is Fair Trade certified. Same with fair trade tea and chocolate, and the list goes—well, kind of on—and then it stops.
Enter cosmetics like lotion, lip balm, and shampoo; foods like granola bars and ice cream; and apparel, all of which are part of Fair Trade USA’s “composite program” that certifies consumer packaged goods containing multiple ingredients—not all of which are eligible for Fair Trade certification. These products boast a slightly different label that includes the name of the certified ingredient.
The standards, though, are a lot different when it comes to percentages of fair trade ingredients required in personal care: Wash off products—think shampoo and body wash—must only contain 2 percent fair trade ingredients, while leave ons like lotion must contain 5 percent fair trade ingredients. In a recent conversation with Maya Spaull, director of new category innovation at Fair Trade USA, I had to ask:
Is 2 percent fair trade enough to make a difference?
Most manufacturers far exceed those numbers, she told me. And there’s a reason the percentages are low: Cosmetics often contain large quantities of water (the first ingredient on many personal care labels). Fair Trade USA, unlike USDA Organic, which excludes water, kept H20 in the equation to make calculations more straightforward for manufacturers. Subtract water and those percentages would look more like 20 and 50, says Spaull. Plus, many beauty ingredients aren’t yet eligible for Fair Trade certification, so why limit manufacturers? “We had to find the line between creating impact to producers and also allowing and supporting cosmetics companies in making efficacious products,” Spaull said.
In my opinion, regardless of whether a product contains 2 percent or 20 percent fair trade ingredients, is filled with water or dry as a bone, Fair Trade USA's composite program is a brilliant strategic move that will be critical to the growth of the fair trade industry. If a cosmetic isn’t efficacious, consumers aren’t going to buy it. If consumers don’t buy it, the category will collapse and producers of beauty ingredients like shea butter will no longer get fair trade prices, while producers of food ingredients like coffee and sugar won’t get the additional income supported by that extra demand from beauty ingredient suppliers.
We may soon see beauty products using entirely shea butter or exotic oils and therefore getting the 100 percent fair trade certification—and I look forward to the development. But overall, I am grateful consumers can put their dollars not just toward a bar of 100 percent fair trade chocolate or can of fair trade coffee—but that we can proudly purchase a 2 percent fair trade body wash or a 5 percent fair trade lotion, too.