Europe is Fair Trade's home

In its report about the role of Fair Trade and non-governmental trade-related sustainability assurance schemes as a contribution to Sustainable Development, the Commission highlights that  between 60% and 70% of global sales take place in the European Union. In order to ensure maximum level of transparency the Commission intends to explore the scope for further dialogue, co-operation and, where appropriate, convergence between different private labelling schemes to promote possible synergies and enhance clarity for the consumer.

The report issued by the Commission (COM(2009) 215 final) points out the need for raising awareness among consumers, and the risk of abuse by companies that enter the Fair Trade market without complying with certification criteria. Additionally, it recognises that Fair Trade is an essentially voluntary, private sector phenomenon, and that too heavy regulatory embrace could prove damaging rather than beneficial.

EU consumers each year purchase Fair Trade certified products for approximately €1.5 billion; which is 70 times more than in 1999 when the Commission adopted a communication on this topic. This success underlines the need for consumers public authorities and other stakeholders, including producer organisations in developing countries to measure the real impact of Fair Trade.

The most striking developments since 1999 have taken place in national markets where certified Fair Trade products were already present. Answering the 1999 Communication’s call for a single label and the need for independent verification and control, the “Fairtrade Certification Mark” has been successfully implemented.

Fair Trade and Sustainability

One of the particular features of Fair Trade and other private sustainability assurance schemes is that it is an essentially voluntary, dynamic mechanism that develops along with societal and consumer awareness and demands.

In that sense, the Commission considers that it should not take a role in ranking or regulating criteria related to private trade-related sustainability assurance schemes, and their relevance in relation to sustainable development objectives. Regulating criteria and standards would limit a dynamic element of private initiatives in this field and could stand in the way of the further development of Fair Trade and other private schemes and their standards.

Ideally, there should be independent monitoring to guarantee that the products are the result of practices carried out according to a specific set of criteria balancing ecological, economic and social considerations. The Commission therefore encourages relevant parties to improve their evaluation methodology so as to allow consumers to make informed choices.

A field in which important developments have been taking place is public procurement. In order to better respond to the contracting authorities' need for guidance to implement sustainable public procurement, the Commission has recently adopted a Communication on public procurement for a better environment (complementing the Commission's Green Procurement Guide) and is currently working on publishing a parallel guide on social procurement. Together, these guides constitute a comprehensive guide to sustainable public procurement.

EU support to Fair Trade

The Commission has provided financial support for Fair Trade and other sustainable trade related activities essentially through its development cooperation instruments (budget chapter 19), through co-financing actions with NGO's. Between 2007 and 2008, € 19.466 million were allocated for various NGO implemented and co-financed actions. The majority of these actions were in the field of awareness raising within the EU.

Actions financed within the framework of multiannual Country Strategy Papers and Indicative Programmes, covering agricultural and rural sectors, include activities that contribute to facilitating Fair Trade.

Within the financing context, the Commission intends to continue funding for relevant Fair Trade and other sustainable trade related activities in accordance with its practice to date. This does not exclude the possibility of financing also more targeted actions in order to pursue the identifies priorities.