Fair trade certifications are often associated with food and textile goods, but the beauty industry also relies on ingredients sourced around the world that can be obtained following fair trade principles.
There are three main organizations that provide fair trade certifications applicable to cosmetic and beauty ingredients: Fair Trade USA, Fair for Life, and B-Corp. The following overviews look at each one of the standards, their requirements, and how to identify products endorsed by the certification.
Fair Trade USA
Fair Trade USA is an Oakland-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting responsible business practices and conscious consumerism.
Once known as TransFair USA, the organization’s first certified product was coffee. Since then the organization has expanded to include tea, then chocolate, and it now certifies personal care and beauty products, apparel, a variety of foods, wine, and home goods.
Called the Trade Standard, the Fair Trade Certified seal on a product shows that it was made “according to rigorous fair trade standards that promote sustainable livelihoods, safe working conditions, protection of the environment, and strong, transparent supply chains.” Standards for each category are reviewed every five years at a minimum.
When you see the Fair Trade Seal on a product, it can indicate that the entire product is certified, that an ingredient is certified, or that the facility where the product is made is certified. Only products can be certified, not companies or businesses.
GMOs are prohibited under the certification. Over half of the Fair Trade Certified products are organic, but not all are. Fair Trade USA does “incentivize organic farming by making training and resources available for farmers, and by offering a higher price for organic goods,” but it’s not a requirement.
Beauty products that are Fair Trade Certified include soaps, hair care, skin care, and makeup. In this category, it is the specific ingredients—like green tea leaves, cocoa butter, or shea butter, that are certified under the Agricultural Production Standard. The requirements are extensive, but these are the overarching issues it addresses:
Empowerment: Empowering individuals and communities is a core tenet of the Fair Trade system. According to the standard, workers and producers receive an extra amount (in addition to wages and product price) known as Fair Trade Premium. Participants in the program decide how the funds are allocated, but the ultimate goal is to help meet community needs.
Fundamental Rights of Work: This Fair Trade Certification principle seeks to reduce the risk of worker exploitation, including forced or bonded labor and child labor. It also addresses freedom of association, ability to negotiate, and freedom from discrimination.
Wages, Working Conditions, and Access to Services: Requires clear employment and payment terms, as well as fair wages and benefits.
Biodiversity, Ecosystem Function, and Sustainable Production: This component seeks to help farmers protect biodiversity, maintain soil productivity, improve carbon sequestration, reduce greenhouse gases, conserve water, and minimize pesticide use.
Transparency and Traceability: Ensures clear contracts, documentation, and traceability between Fair Trade certificate holders and those that use or sell their products.
Internal Management System: Producers must have an internal system to monitor the implementation of the standard, as well as planning and record-keeping.
How to Identify Fair Trade USA Products
These products or ingredients can be identified by the organization’s logo, which shows a stylized human figure with two hands holding a bowl and the words “Fair Trade Certified” (pictured above).
The organization also offers a database on its website where you can search for Fair Trade USA-certified products by name and category.
B Lab is the nonprofit network in charge of the B Corp Certification. The entity’s ultimate goal is to “change the economic system” and create a culture where “business (plays a role) as a force of good.”
The certification evaluates companies’ social and environmental impact as a whole. According to the organization, “the B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high quality jobs with dignity and purpose.”
B Corporation Certified companies include health, beauty, and personal care brands as well as a wide variety of other types of companies from clothing and banks to food beverages—with over 4,000 companies in 150 industries currently certified.
The certification process varies depending on the size and scope of the company, but all candidates must start by taking the B Impact Assessment and address requirements in the following categories:
Community: Companies applying to become B Corp certified must prove that their practices and policies seek to benefit the community through service, charitable giving, or addressing basic needs or social issues. This component also examines supplier relations and diversity within the organization.
Environment: A company’s environmental performance is evaluated holistically, including “its facilities, materials, emissions, and resource and energy use.” Aspects such as waste reduction efforts and supply chain environmental impact are also considered.
Governance: The standard looks at a company’s “overall mission, ethics, accountability and transparency” to ensure it prioritizes social or environmental goals. The entity should also provide open communication channels and seek the participation of employees and customers in its business model.
Workers: Corporate culture is examined as a whole, paying special attention to compensation and benefits, growth opportunities, communication, work environment, and the chance for employees to participate in company ownership.
Customers: In general, B Corp certified companies should seek to benefit the public. The evaluation of this costumer-focused approach looks at the products or services sold by the company and whether they help “solve a social or environmental issue.”
Importantly, Certified B Corporations must also amend their legal governing documents to require their board of directors to balance profit and purpose. Certified companies must undergo a recertification process every three years.
How to Identify B Corp Certified Brands
The organization’s logo features the letter B inside a circle and the legend “Certified B Corporation” (pictured above). You can also search for certified companies around the world using B Corp’s directory.
Fair for Life
Fair for Life is an international certification program with two standards: For Life (evaluates corporate social responsibility) and Fair for Life (examines fair trade and responsible supply chains).
Through the Fair for Life Certification Standard, the organization certifies fair trade products in agriculture, manufacturing, and commerce, with a focus on responsible supply chains and a long-term vision.
The organization has certified products by more than 700 companies in over 70 countries, and its work directly affects more than 235,000 workers and producers. Certified products include food, cosmetic and beauty products, textiles, artisanal products, home cleaning supplies, and other products “composed of natural ingredients.”
Companies seeking Fair for Life certification must meet requirements in eight categories:
Policy Management: A brand or company seeking certification must establish a policy and create an action plan to ensure fair trade throughout its processes. It must also determine mechanisms to follow up, evaluate, and improve projects. Key steps include identifying beneficiaries, targets, objectives, expectations, and stakeholders.
Social Responsibility: The standard takes into consideration aspects like forced labor, freedom of association and collective bargaining, child labor, equal and respectful treatment of people, protection of human rights, the health and safety of workers, fair compensation, and conditions of employment.
Environmental Responsibility: Certified entities must seek to minimize their environmental impact, with special attention to water conservation, energy management, climate change mitigation, waste management, packaging choices, use of chemicals, protection of ecosystems, farming practices, and animal testing.
Local impact: Participants must play a positive role in their local communities and their economies. In addition, they must have a legitimate right to use the land and resources where they operate, and must be respectful of traditional knowledge.
Fair Trade in Supply-Chain Management: Organizations participating in the program should seek to create sustained growth and a long-term cooperation strategy with their supply chain stakeholders. This requirement calls for mutually advantageous and clearly defined contracts, fair pricing, financial assistance to small producers, ethical sourcing of raw materials, and transparency and open communication throughout the supply chain.
Empowerment and Capacity-Building: The certification process seeks to empower producers and workers through active roles in key business decisions and negotiations, including sub-groups that might be considered disadvantaged. The autonomy of producers and workers is encouraged through technical and commercial diversification efforts. Fair for Life certified companies must also create a fair trade fund for meaningful development projects.
Respect for the Consumer: Certified companies must commit to honesty, transparency, and traceability of their ingredients. They must also avoid any components considered harmful to human health or the environment.
Managing Certification and Performance: Processes and tools must be in place to ensure continued compliance and performance improvement in order to maintain a Fair for Life certification. This step may require external audits, follow-up evaluations, and ongoing improvement efforts.
The For Life certification follows a similar set of standards with slight variations to account for additional social responsibility requirements in the policy and supply change management components.
How to Identify Fair for Life Certified Products
The “For Life” and “Fair for Life” logos are very straightforward—no images, just the words “for life” or “fair for life” on a blue or orange background, respectively. Certified companies are allowed to use the logos on product packaging and on their websites.
The organization’s website also offers a list of certified products sorted by ingredients.