As Fairtrade falters, an alternative standard is championing ethical trading

When Sainsburys dropped the Fairtrade standard for its own-brand teas in June, it signalled the beginning of a difficult summer for the ethical accreditation scheme. But the thirst for ethical, traceable products remains. Pukka Herbs has opted for the Fair for Life certification – “much more than a logo on a pack”, as co-founder Sebastian Pole explains

How often do you peer into your dinner, packed lunch, or cup of tea, and wonder who grew the ingredients? Were the producers treated fairly? What about those in the rest of the supply chain?

When hectic modern life, and our globalised food systems makes answering those questions tricky, accreditation schemes can help us make more informed decisions about how we spend our cash. Fairtrade is the best-known: over 25 years it built a reputation for transparency and accountability, a ‘moral standard’ of ethical trading.

But it endured a difficult summer. First Sainsburys ditched the Fairtrade label from its own-brand tea, then Green & Black’s announced that their new chocolate bar will be neither organic nor Fairtrade-certified. Some decried the decisions to move away from the scheme – it is the world’s most famous ethical badge – while others suggested it is outdated, offering too few benefits to producers from the global south.

Some of the farmers have had to increase the amount that they pay labourers, or to invest in improved machinery to reduce the risk of injury or poor health

Enter a proliferation of new ‘ethical labels’. Bristol-based company Pukka Herbs has recently committed to Fair for Life – a ‘gold standard’ in fair and ethical trading. It isn’t exactly new – it began in 2006 – but it is gaining more attention as businesses and consumers seek broader measures of ethical impact.

“We want everyone involved to benefit from working with us,” explains Pukka co-founder Sebastian Pole. Unlike many fair trade programmes, the Fair for Life certification does not just focus on the farmers – it includes other links in the supply chain. “In our case,” says Pole, “this includes in-country partners that process the herbs and even all of us at the Pukka HQ in Bristol. Our Fair for Life certification makes us even fairer and more inclusive, supporting and protecting others across our supply chain, not just growers, in developing and developed countries.”

Pole adds: “Even in developed countries, labour laws may offer limited protection to farm workers and marginalised communities may need support – Fair for Life gives protection for all at a socio-economic disadvantage.”

Fair for Life was developed as a complementary approach to the existing fair trade certification system: at the time it was limited to certain products and models of fair trade. Committing to such stringent independent standards is no mean feat. “Years of hard work have gone into certifying all our teas Fair for Life,” notes Pole.

Tulsi from India, one of the ingredients in some of Pukka’s teas

Fair for Life assesses through annual audits by qualified independent inspectors and each operation is measured against a list of published criteria. Pukka’s annual audit is in the public domain for all to see. The certification required that 20 per cent of each of Pukka’s tea blends needs to be fair certified. In reality, over 40 per cent of the herbs Pukka bought in 2016 were certified fair.

Trade as a driving force for positive, sustainable change

In addition, Pukka’s tea pickers and their communities benefit from the Fair for Life certification meaning they get a fair price for their work. They will receive a fair trade community premium – which the community decides where to invest. In 2016, Pukka’s total community fair trade fund contributions came to £89,000.

For many communities, the priority is to keep increasing production and improving the quality of the fair certified produce: farmers in India, Turkey and China have chosen to invest in producing compost, whereas farmers in Bosnia and Hungary have invested in improved herb drying facilities.

Turmeric, also grown in India, is another ingredient in some of Pukka’s teas

For others, the fund is best spent on improving their working conditions. Licorice collectors that Pukka works with in Spain, Georgia and Kazakhstan came up with the same idea of investing in a caravan, where they can take shelter from the scorching heat of the sun: an insight into the habitat of wild licorice and the hard work that goes into harvesting its roots.

For other communities, says Pole, the fair trade fund is an opportunity to meet their basic needs, such as building and repairing roads and bridges in Vietnam, or firewood for heating during the winter in Bosnia and Poland. In Bosnia and Georgia, the collectors decided to use the money to fund dental treatment.

“In Georgia, we were greeted on a recent supplier visit by a family of licorice collectors with huge smiles sparkling with golden crowns, evidently very happy with their share of the fair trade fund.”

Fair for Life certification represents many inspiring stories of social change

This is no mere lip service to trading ethically. In fact, this independent accreditation has meant that all of the team, from the farmers to the Pukka staff, have had to make changes to the way they work.

“For example, some of the farmers have had to increase the amount that they pay labourers,” says Pole, “or start keeping better records of working hours, or to invest in improved machinery to reduce the risk of injury or poor health. If the farmer needs support in doing this, it is the shared responsibility of the whole supply chain to increase prices to make it possible.”

The commitment to Fair for Life is one of many steps in Pukka’s commitment to creating a more sustainable future for people, plants and the planet. In November 2016, Pukka became one of the UK’s first B Corporations, joining a global movement of likeminded organisations driving social and environmental change. And, also in 2016, the company became a member of 1% for the Planet, meaning it donates 1 per cent of its annual turnover to environmental causes.

Schemes such as Fair for Life and B Corporation allow companies to become more than the sum of their parts.

“Fair for Life certification is much more than a logo on a pack,” says Pole. “It is the result of a huge amount of effort from many partners, and represents many inspiring stories of social change.”

Sebastian Pole’s 3 reasons why Fair for Life differs from other fair trade schemes

1. It’s inclusive
“Fair for Life is a guarantee that everyone along the whole certified supply chain is treated fairly and equitably. It’s not just certified farmers and producers who are checked; Fair for Life ensures others receive minimum wages and decent working conditions along the way. This includes our growers, blending partners, as well as Pukka employees”

2. It’s a global standard
“Unlike most other fair trade standards, Fair for Life covers trade with ‘developed’ as well as ‘developing’ countries. It means that, for example, our suppliers in countries like Turkey and Hungary are also protected under the Fair for Life scheme. Essentially it means we can source even more ethical and fairly traded herbs”

3. It’s fully transparent
“You can see our suppliers and our own fair score on the Fair for Life website


Green tea being picked in Vietnam

5 ways Pukka meets the Fair for Life standard

1. Sources ethically and fairly-traded (100 per cent organic) herbs

2. Works with and protects those at a socio-economic disadvantage, in both developed and developing countries

3. Pays fair and sustainable wages and ensures decent working conditions

4. Offers transparency to the public and those working for, and with, Pukka

5. Contributes to a community development fund


Tulsi pickers in India

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