Fair for Life is a rare certification in the coffee market. Besides the more known certification bodies, Fair for Life does not enjoy the popularity that other programs do, yet. This might change in the future as we believe Fair for Life is one of the most complete certification programs within the market. And not only for coffee, but a large range of other commodities and industries too. On this page, you will discover why Fair for Life is a unique certification program within the coffee market. But first: what is Fair for Life?
Fair for Life is a certification program for fair trade in agriculture, manufacturing, and trade. The Ecocert Group, owner of the Fair for Life label, aims for a world where trade is a driving force for positive and sustainable change benefiting people and their environment. How? By creating, in their words, long-term, committed, and responsible supply chains that show resilience and traceability at each link of the supply chain. From producer to consumer.
Ecocert sums up Fair for Life as followed:
Ok. This is the meta-level description of Fair for Life. But how does this work in practice?
The Fair for Life has several progressive elements that make the program unique among certifications, namely:
All four elements explain how Fair for Life works and how the program sets a unique trend within the market.
Coffee comes in many qualities and grades. It would be un-beneficial for grower and buyer if the price range of all qualities, high or low, remain the same. Ecocert has a solution for this. Flexible pricing. Because within the Fair for Life program, you can trade conventional coffees but still give the purchase extra value by discussing a fair and honest price with the supplier.
The price is always set in mutual agreement instead of working towards a market standard. Buying a lower grade? Then the price could be lower. Buying a higher grade? Then the price steers to a higher level. In Trabocca’s case, most of the coffee we buy is grade 1. And this gives us the ability to pay a price far above the market standard. On top of this higher price, the program demands there is a 10% premium. But more on that later.
Fair for Life is built on long-term relationships. A relationship is often a hollow marketing term within the coffee industry, but we back to differ in the context of Fair for Life. A long-term relationship is endorsed through a partner agreement framework (PFA): a three-year binding contract. Within this contract, the buyer and seller agree upon a base price that should be paid for three consecutive years. This gives the farmers or coops a base of trust, and it transfers the responsibility of the supply chain to downstream actors in the chain like coffee importers, roasters, and even cafe owners.
Ecocert knows each origin requires different levels of pricing and helps supply chains to establish a fair price that fits the needs of the local market and the growers. The PFA is reviewed and renewed after three years. This gives both parties, seller and buyer, the chance to negotiate another fixed price for the next three years. The fixed price is an instrument for the sustainability of the chain and the farmers within. But, as mentioned earlier, there’s another tool in play: premiums.
Whatever price buyer and seller agree upon, the seller (farmer, cooperative) will always receive a 10% premium above the sales price. The 10% acts as a bonus, or community development fund, that is transferred from roaster to importer to seller. It is mandatory that the seller, either the farmers or cooperatives, invest this premium within their direct community. Examples of investments could be anything the community direly needs, such as electricity networks, internet, or school materials.
Fair for Life takes a holistic approach towards supply chains. As a company buying coffee through the Fair for Life certification, you need to guarantee the entire supply chain lives up to the standards and requirements of the certification. This also includes related businesses that are not directly linked to the supply chain but indirectly service you as a company. Think of hulling companies or packaging suppliers. Whatever the link, you need to include them in the Fair for Life assessment to check if they have a minimum standard for being a supplier within a Fair for Life supply chain.
Assessment topics like owned certifications, number of personnel and hired hands, and proof of child labor exclusion. The point is not whether these related businesses are fully Fair for Life certified. It is about the accountability of the related businesses. The main question is: are they suitable to function within a Fair for Life supply chain? The associated companies receive the documents and must complete the assessment. When signed, the party complies with the minimum standards and is aware that the product, in this case, coffee, is Fair for Life certified. Ecocert receives the assessments and reviews the documents and even does a background check on the related business. This process makes Fair for Life supply chains as holistic as certifications can be.
Imagine you certify your supply chain within a given season. Deal done, right? Well no. The Fair for Life standards progress and intensify over the years. Although certifying a specific supply chain starts relatively easy, the requirements to keep the entire supply chain certified over the coming seasons become stricter. In total, it takes your company four challenging years to achieve the full set of points within the program. But luckily, the program lets you take small steps to improve every season. How does this work?
Each year, the program asks you to go a step further in terms of social responsibility and environmental care. These stricter measurements are assessed by an Ecocert auditor who visits all parties in the chain. For example, in year two the program asks you to prove that waste is disposed of in an environmentally friendly way. If an Auditor visits the farm in origin and finds out the waste of the property is not properly disposed of, the Auditor registers a non-conformity. The result is de-certification. This example puts the responsibility at the farmers’ level. But the thoroughness of Fair for Life continues in consuming countries too.
The following example is closer to home: quantifying the electricity and fuel consumption associated with production. This point within the assessment focuses on energy consumption and CO2 footprint. Many companies do not have systems in place or information about their consumption. When proof of a companies’ footprint is not fully supplied, the Auditor will make note that proof of energy consumption and CO2 footprint is supplied in next years’ audit. The heat is on and companies need to do their homework to stay certified.
At Trabocca, we are a facilitator of Fair for Life supply chains. Meaning we assist coffee roasters, small and large, within the certification process. We have deep knowledge on the topic of the FFL-certification process and connections within an origin. This makes us the perfect facilitator for certifications like FFL. Our role can be broken down into three points:
As you now know, Fair for Life is one of the most progressive certifications within the market. It materializes, the rather hollow and overused word, sustainability, through (contracted) long-term commitments and flexible pricing. The latter creates a stark contrast to the one-size-fits-all pricing we see within the global coffee market.
A standard premium of 10% boosts social investments, and stricter rules, as seasons progress, smear responsibility evenly along the supply chain. Even third parties are held accountable. And lastly, traceability is one of the key ingredients for the holistic approach of this fair-trade certification.
The next time you see Fair for Life pop up in a spot list, you know what it’s all about. In case you want more in-depth information, please visit the Fair for Life website. Interested in the possibilities of setting up a Fair for Life supply chain? Reach out to us for a talk.