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Beauty Store Business: What's Fair is Fair
08/29/2011 - 3:17 PM
Fair trade isn’t just coffee or handmade gifts anymore. There’s a slew of beauty products to make your inventory unique.

Up until the last few years, the term “fair trade” brought to mind men harvesting coffeein sun-drenched plantations or women handbeading jewelry or clothing. But mention fair trade now and you’ll likely be introduced to beauty products that fuel a cause and produce results. Beauty Store Business had a chance recently to chat with Maya Spaull, director of new-category innovation for Fair Trade USA (www.fairtradeusa.org), and is excited to share that interview with our readers.

BSB: Please give us the history of Fair Trade USA. SPAULL:

Fair Trade began modestly in the 1940s when a few small North American and European organizations reached out to poverty stricken communities to help them sell their handicrafts to well-off markets. Today, Fair Trade is a global movement to alleviate poverty by harnessing the power of markets and empowering farmers and farm workers to take control of and invest in the wellbeing of their families, businesses and communities.

Fair Trade USA, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, is the leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States. The organization was founded by its President and CEO, Paul Rice, in 1998, to help address some of the major social, environmental and economic downfalls of existing trade systems. Fair Trade USA now audits and certifies transactions between U.S. companies and their international suppliers to guarantee that the farmers and workers producing Fair Trade Certified goods are paid fair prices and wages, work in safe conditions, protect the environment and receive community development funds to empower and uplift their communities. Fair Trade USA also educates consumers, brings new manufacturers and retailers into the Fair Trade system, and provides farmers with tools, training and resources needed to thrive as international business people.

Fair Trade has expanded so much in recent years; it's no longer just coffee. Specifically speaking about beauty and fair trade, where do you see it going in the future? 

Fair Trade started out as a certification for coffee, but has since grown to include a variety of other agricultural products from cocoa, sugar and tea to fresh fruit, herbs and spices.  By expanding Fair Trade certification to other products, we are bringing the benefits of Fair Trade to thousands more farmers and workers around the world. 

Now companies are able to use Fair Trade products as ingredients – for the personal care industry, that means a lot!  We are seeing companies create a wide variety of new personal care products using Fair Trade Certified cocoa butter, shea butter, coffee extract and more.  There are so many possibilities.

Fair Trade USA started certifying personal care products to expand the benefits of the system to farmer groups specializing in ingredients used in personal care products such as shea butter, baobab oil and exotic herbal extracts.   We envision continued growth in this area based on the positive response from both brands and consumers.

How is the organization structured?

Fair Trade USA is one of 23 members on the Bonn, Germany-based Fairtrade International (FLO).  Fairtrade international is responsible for developing the Fair Trade standards and collecting impact data from the farmers.  They work with a third-party certifier called FLO-CERT to audit the producer organizations yearly to make sure that they are following the rigorous social and environmental standards that Fair Trade requires.  Fair Trade USA then audits the transactions between U.S. companies and the certified producer organizations to make sure that Fair Trade standards were followed.

Fair Trade USA consists of about 50 full-time employees who work in certification, marketing, business development and resource development.

What is your background?

I have a background in ethnobotany and plant studies which includes time spent making my own cosmetics for fun! I have had the privilege of working at Fair Trade USA since 2004. As our Director of New Category Innovation I support Fair Trade USA in exploring new areas for certification, linking producers to U.S. buyers and expanding the impact of Fair Trade.

Who makes up your senior management team?

Fair Trade USA’s President & CEO Paul Rice opened first "national headquarters” — a one-room office in a converted warehouse in downtown Oakland — in late 1998. Paul came to Fair Trade by way of the mountainous Segovias region of Nicaragua, where he worked for 11 years as a rural development specialist. While in Nicaragua, Paul founded and led a highly successful organic coffee export cooperative called PRODECOOP, introducing him to the transformational power of Fair Trade. Subsequently, Paul served as strategy consultant and development advisor to 22 cooperative enterprises throughout Latin America and Asia, helping them become more competitive, democratic and self-reliant. His first-hand experience over the last 20 years in the development of cooperative coffee export ventures around the world is unparalleled in the U.S. coffee industry. Paul has become a leading advocate of market linkage and enterprise development as core strategies for farmer empowerment and sustainable development.

How can an individual or company become a member?

For a product to be able to bear the Fair Trade Certified label it must comply with a rigorous set of social and environmental standards. A Fair Trade product is backed by a transparent auditing system and is currently the only Fair Trade label that has received the International Standards Organization’s (ISO) 65 accreditation. Fair Trade USA, a nonprofit organization, is just one piece of the Fair Trade puzzle worldwide as one of 24 member organizations that work under the Fairtrade International (FLO) umbrella. Based in Bonn, Germany, FLO sets and monitors global Fair Trade standards with farming organizations throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America. 

Fair Trade USA had developed a comprehensive audit program to increase transparency in trade. They do this by tracking transactions along the supply chain between more than 700 U.S. companies and the farming organizations from whom they source.

Are there graduated fee structures for different member levels? 

There are not different member levels, but there is an artisan program for smaller companies with a reduced fee structure to make Fair Trade a realistic option for companies of all sizes.

Where do you see the organization in one year? In five years?

Recent data shows that Sales of Fair Trade Certified™ products increased 24 percent at grocery stores during 2010. Today, consumers can find Fair Trade products in every aisle of the supermarket. Due to this broad availability, driven by more than 700 companies offering Fair Trade Certified products, more mainstream American consumers are becoming Fair Trade converts. The 2010 data from SPINS (www.spins.com), the first company to offer Fair Trade sales data across natural, specialty and mainstream channels, indicates that sales of Fair Trade Certified products at mainstream channels grew faster (26%) than those of specialty grocers (22%) and natural grocers (16%).

We have also collected data revealing that consumer awareness around Fair Trade has more than quadrupled in the past 5 years. And, once aware, 8 in 10 shoppers will regularly buy Fair Trade.

It is our hope that one day Fair Trade will become the new norm, the gold standard in a world of labels and ethical decision making. We want Fair Trade to be a barometer of responsible shopping in consumer’s everyday lives—if a product is not Fair Trade, we don’t buy it. To help achieve this our goal is to continue spreading awareness of the Fair Trade label, to empower our business partners with the tools to tell the story of Fair Trade to their customers, and to develop and expand the variety of Fair Trade products available to the mainstream consumer.

From your perspective, what current trends are impacting the retail industry?

Two things happened during the recent economic recession: consumers became more and more cautious with their spending and corporate social responsibility became more and more relevant.  Thus as we begin to recover from the recession, consumers have become aware of where they are spending their money.  They are looking to buy from companies that both sell high-quality products and ensure sustainability in the supply chain.  Fair Trade is an easy way for a company to show its buyers that their supply chain has been audited and that they truly walk the walk when it comes to CSR.

What else should our readers know?

Our research shows that about 34% of Americans are aware of Fair Trade.  Those that know what Fair Trade is, about 8/10 are likely to buy Fair Trade products.  We are eager to work with retailers to help educate more people about Fair Trade – this can be done through point of sale materials like shelf talkers, stickers, brochures and more. 

Fair Trade is all about quality products that improve lives and protect the planet.  It’s an easy way for consumers to make a difference with their everyday purchases.  When you buy beauty products made with Fair Trade ingredients, you are helping small farmers and their families in developing countries to send their kids to school, feed their families, improve their communities and lift themselves out of poverty.