IS iT organic, when it's labelled organic?
Is it fair trade, when it's labelled Fairtrade?
Is it sustainable, when it's labelled sustainable?
The terms organic, Fairtrade, sustainability, UTZ, Rainforest Alliance, etc. have an ever greater importance for the trade and the consumers of the 21st century. Therefore, the market holds a number of logos and seals, which are designed to help the consumers with their purchase decisions. Logos and seals convey safety to the consumer, but the so labelled products often do not meet the idealistic expectations and ideas.
State authorities also act as issuer of national and European organic seals. Basis for the granting of the state seal is the European regulation on organic production.
For the consumer, the EU control system sounds plausible and credible. As do the procedures for the private social and sustainability certifications and their respective seals.
One who faces the daily practice and the impact in particular in developing countries, but also in Europe and other developed countries, sees the big gap between ambition and reality. The contents of the private and state certifications and the compliance with them are more illusion than reality.
The reasons for the deficiencies in the certification process are varied, and they dilute their practical content.
Missing advice accompanied by the lack of understanding and knowledge about organic farming, as well as inadequate EU laws, controls and standards are the reason that conventionally produced products can access the European market as certified organic products.
Even the best quality management cannot guarantee that an organic product really comes from organic farming.
The on-site inspection activities in developing countries and emerging economies, which are carried out by private EU third country control bodies, lack of effective surveillance by the authorities. The control standards are, as experience teaches, often insufficient and too bureaucratic.
In practical terms this means that although organic products grow on organic farmland, mainly the prescribed documentation is controlled and not the field.
This leads to poor inspection quality. So, it happens again and again that organic certificates are issued for companies which do not practice organic farming, but only make it believe by documentation of something, that is not implemented in practice.
In the market today, the consumer wants inexpensive to cheap products. Moreover, the trade often suggests that one gets a lot of good for nothing.
The export prices, which can be realised in average by the producers, often do not cover the additional costs for the investments in ecological production and social sustainability, because trade and consumers don't want to pay the additional expenses.
A consistent transition to true, genuine and sustainable organic farming without outside help is hardly affordable for the producers.
Still, consumers live with the imagination that they improve the lives of tea farmers in Asia or Africa when buying organic products labelled with sustainability seals such as Fairtrade, UTZ, Rainforest Alliance, etc.
Often people imagine organic products to be traded more fair than conventional products. One could deduce that consumers understood that organic production can only survive through sustainable production and a fair support by the market as a whole.
There are also people, who are willing to pay a reasonable price for sustainably produced and fairly traded organic products.
The EU with its organic control system and the private certification bodies bear responsibility towards the consumers. The uncertainties in the implementation of the sustainable, eco-social idea are so varied, that this can only be achieved by an intensive collaboration in form of development partnerships between the producers and responsible-minded and supporting trade enterprises.
For this purpose, European traders and consumers need to develop a greater sense of responsibility.