Fair Trade labelling

The first Fairtrade label, Max Havelaar, was established in 1988 the Netherlands. Afterwards, more Fairtrade labels have been developed. These labels merged into the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO) in 1997. Later it was called Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International and then renamed Fairtrade International. Over time fair-trade labels for around 30.000 products have been established, some of these products are also certified as organic.

Since the late 1980s, fair-trade actors have been able to use registered labels, which have resulted in a wider distribution of products, especially in shops not dedicated to fair-trade. By using a specific logo, these certified fair-trade products can be sold in all kinds of stores, most notably in supermarkets.

Fairtrade standards or labels are designed to support the sustainable development opportunities of small producer organisations, farmers, and workers in developing countries. They include both social, economic and environmental criteria and contain core and development requirements aimed at improvements that benefit producers and their communities.

Often, the following general characteristics apply for fair-trade labels:

- they refer to specific standards that break down the meaning of product sustainability and quality by principle, criteria and indicators. 

- they implement controls

- they put a specific logo on the product that can be recognised by consumers

- they are open to different economic actors, which is why they differ from brands that are developed by companies for themselves. 

Labelling and certification schemes play an important role in the growth of the fair-trade market. For example, worldwide, sales made under the Fairtrade International (Max Havelaar) label alone reached 8,49 billion euros in 2017. 

Common labelling principles

Since the launch of Fairtrade International, various labels have been created that differ in their approaches, governance methods, production models that they support or even certification systems that they recognise. For all these different labelling practices, the following common principles are required, as described by Fairtrade International:

Social Development Principle: for small-scale producers, the standards require an organisational structure allowing the producers to bring a product to the market, and there needs to be access to democratic decision-making processes 

Economic Development Principlethe standards require the buyers to pay a Fairtrade Minimum Price or a Fairtrade Premium to producers in order for the producers to cover the costs of sustainable production. 

Environmental Development Principle: the standards require for environmentally sound agricultural practices with focus areas such as minimised use of agrochemicals, proper waste management and no use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). 


To ensure compliance with fair-trade standards, monitoring systems are required and part of the criteria for a fair-trade label. A vast majority of fair-trade labels use third party auditors to maintain impartiality. Several fair-trade labels also use organic certification accredited bodies. 

The oldest label, the Fairtrade International label has created its own certification body, called FLOCERT. This body is independent since 2003, but remains largely dedicated to the Fairtrade International label. Its headquarters are based in Bonn, Germany. FLOCERT its role in the certification process is to certify all different elements in the supply chain, ranging from farming all the way to final packaging. In order to do so, FLOCERT auditors will visit organisations to check whether they meet the Fairtrade Standards and principles mentioned above. 


International Guide to fair-trade labels (2020), Fair World Project 

Fairtrade Standards (2021), fairtrade.net/standard/aims

FLOCERT (2021) https://www.flocert.net/solutions/fairtrade/fairtrade-overview/

Picture credit: Make fruit fair! CC https://www.flickr.com/photos/makefruitfair/5082993821