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France, pioneer of local fair trade in Europe

In France, the development of local fair trade has been the result of both South-North trade initiatives, such as Ethiquable or Alter Eco, and the French small farmers movement. The national law on fair trade provides a framework for the approach, as does the ‘Origine France’ fair trade charter. And no fewer than eight labels can be used to certify products or services. Here is a brief overview.

The Precursors

In France, two well-known fair trade companies, Alter Eco and Ethiquable, have offered a new fair, organic and local approach to small French farmers since 2011. Ethiquable has always defended small farmers. It is not about marketing ‘fair trade’ products from large plantations. In line with this approach, the Paysans d’ici range is based on a charter to maintain small-scale agriculture in France. Similarly, Alter Eco launched a range of French small-scale farming products together with Corab, an organic cooperative specialising in pulses, cereals and oilseeds.(1) These two ‘classic’ fair trade companies were preceded by the Biocoop retail network, which has long been involved in the distribution of North-South fair trade products and which, in the 2000s, initiated partnerships with French producer organisations.

Fair trade law integrates local fair trade

French legislation applicable to small businesses, which has described and recognised the concept of ‘fair trade’ since 2005, extended it in May 2014 to North-North relations (2). This legislation specifies that fair trade is part of the national strategy for sustainable development and that: “The purpose of fair trade is to ensure the economic and social progress of workers in a situation of economic disadvantage as a result of their precariousness, remuneration and qualifications, organised within structures of democratic governance, by means of commercial relations with a buyer”.
Those commercial relations have to satisfy the following conditions:

  • A long-term commitment;
  • “The payment by the buyer of a remunerative price for the workers, established on the basis of an identification of the production costs and a balanced negotiation between the parties to the contract”;
  • “The granting by the buyer of an obligatory additional amount for collective projects, in addition to the purchase price or integrated into the price, aimed at strengthening the capacities”

Each company involved in these sectors is able to produce information relating to product traceability and is involved in awareness-raising and educational actions on socially and ecologically sustainable production and consumption patterns.

Only products satisfying those conditions may include the term “fair trade” in their sales description (3).

The recent French law on climate, adopted on 4 May 2021 in the National Assembly, officially recognises fair trade as an accelerator of the ecological and solidarity-based transition. It stipulates that fair trade promotes more environmentally friendly production methods, such as agro-ecology, by making them more sustainable. A company claiming to be involved in fair trade is now obliged to use a label.

The National Charter of Fair Trade Origin France

Created in 2014 under the name ‘Charte nationale du commerce équitable local’, the Charte nationale du commerce équitable origine France (4) changed its name in 2018. It was launched on the initiative of the Fair Trade Platform (PFCE), the network of Initiatives for a Citizen and Territorial Agriculture (Inpact National), in partnership with the National Federation of Organic Agriculture (Fnab).

It structures 13 fundamental principles around three commitments: in a fair and responsible trade relationship, for a local and sustainable agriculture, and for the change of trade practices.

“This charter aims to bring together and give visibility and coherence to the many economic approaches or labels that have emerged in recent years. In this way, it also responds to a strong public demand for fairer economic relations in France. It should make it possible to consolidate the experiments in progress, by also providing them with a framework for capitalisation and exchanges of good practices”.

This charter is not a guarantee system serving as a basis for certification, but rather a reference framework.

The founding principles of the charter

I.    COMMITMENT TO A FAIR AND RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP
  • A transparent and remunerative price
  • A long-term business partnership
  • A non-exclusive relationship that preserves the autonomy of producers
  • A shared development project
  • An eco-responsible sector
  • Working conditions that respect human dignity
II.  A COMMITMENT TO SUSTAINABLE AND SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE AGRICULTURE
  • Small-scale local agriculture
  • Sustainable, autonomous and transparent agricultural practices, based on organic and/or agro-ecological farm production methods
  • A producer organisation on a human and democratic scale
  • Production based on local resources and specificities
III.  COMMITMENT TO CHANGE BUSINESS PRACTICES
  • Transparency and communication vis-à-vis consumers
  • Consumer awareness and education
  • Advocacy for economic and political decision-makers

French fair trade labels integrating the local dimension

Biopartenaire

Created in 2002, Biopartenaire[6] is a label which synthesises organic agriculture and fair trade; organic does not guarantee a fair remuneration for producers, and fair trade is not necessarily synonymous with respect for the environment. 

The label provides a framework for relations between producers, input suppliers, wholesalers and processors by ensuring outlets at a guaranteed minimum price for producers over a period of at least 3 years. The processors are able to benefit from this because they have quality products at their disposal. Checks are carried out at all stages of the supply chain by third party organisations according to the specifications of two standards: Fair for Life and Reliable.

Biopartenaire has chosen to label only products distributed in organic food shops or similar. More than 700 products are labelled, from 60 sectors worldwide, including 15 in France, ranging from cereals to cashew nuts, including tea, rice, livestock or aromatic and medicinal plants.

The Fair Tourism Label

L’Association pour le Tourisme Equitable et Solidaire (Association for Fair and Solidarity Tourism) is a French network of organisations and specialists in fair and solidarity tourism. Created in 2006, it brings together tour operators, relay operators and associate members, all committed to making travel a lever for development and international solidarity.

Historically reserved for tour operators, and launched at the beginning of 2020 to tourism stakeholders in France, the ‘Label Tourisme Equitable’ (Fair Tourism label) is now accessible without prior membership of the ATES to professionals committed to an ethical, responsible and solidarity-based approach who wish to enhance their offer of holidays, activities or accommodation. It is aimed at specialised and general tour operators who wish to have all or part of their offer labelled, and at tourist reception facilities in France (accommodation, leisure sites, cultural sites, activity providers, events, restaurants, incoming agencies in France…).

Through nearly 50 criteria, the label guarantees fair management of purchases and partnerships, an activity that preserves the environment and natural resources, democratic and fair management of the organisation, an activity rooted in its territory and beneficial to the inhabitants.

Agri-Ethique

Created in 2013 by the Cavac cooperative group in the Vendée, Agri-Éthique (6) is today the first French fair trade label. It all started with the wheat sector, in response to price volatility, but Agri-Éthique now also deals with the milk, beef, pork and dried vegetables sectors, and works with 19 producer groups and more than 1,300 farmers and breeders.

The Agri-Ethics approach is based on multipartite agreements between farmers, storekeepers, processors and distributors over a minimum period of 3 years to ensure economic security and fair remuneration for the former. The production costs of the region concerned and the characteristics of the farms in the sector serve as a basis for setting guaranteed prices.

In 2019, the label represented €252 million in turnover, i.e. 58% of the turnover of products labelled fair trade origin France. In addition to the volumes generated, the label is also important for mobilising conventional agricultural sectors and supporting them in the agro-ecological transition.

Bio Equitable En France

On 12 May 2020, 27 agricultural groups representing 4,000 producers, 26 organic farming companies, Scop Ethiquable and Biocoop, a network of 637 shops, created an association to develop the BIO EQUITABLE EN FRANCE (7) label and build, with consumers, a new economic model. The groups have decided to involve processing companies (dairy, charcuterie, miller…) in the labelling and governance in order to create coherent channels.
The label targets family farms organised in autonomous groups. There are precise criteria governing the size of farms to support the many farms in the area that generate employment and income. The standards rely on independent producer groups, which market their products and are committed to cooperative and democratic values. The farms must be certified organic. The implementation of agro-ecological practices is an integral part of the changes in production methods encouraged by the standard.
The label guarantees producer-defined prices and regular monitoring. Each producer group sets its price according to:

  • Agricultural production costs (including agricultural risk);
  • Sufficient remuneration to meet basic needs and improve the standard of living of producers and their families;
  • A margin enabling producer groups to cover their operations and make the investments necessary to improve the efficiency of their production tools and the marketing of their products.

Since the start of the new school year 2020, all products are labelled BIO EQUITABLE EN FRANCE. This label, Bio Equitable En France, was preceded by another one launched by the National Federation of Organic Agriculture: Bio.Français.Equitable .

Bio Français Equitable

Bio.Français.Equitable (8) was launched at the beginning of 2020 by the National Federation of Organic Agriculture, which is responsible for its governance, in collaboration with the Picard retailer. Courgettes, maize, green beans and carrots are the first products concerned. They are initially sold in the south-west, in 87 sales outlets. 

Les labels internationaux universels

Two ‘classic’ fair trade labels, Fair for Life and WFTO, have a universal scope and can certify local fair trade products, even if WFTO, the World Fair Trade Organization, is not currently certifying any French products.

Fair for Life

Many Origine France fair trade products are certified by Fair for Life (9). For example, in August 2020, Vignobles Gabriel & Co became the first French wine operator to be recognised as a fair trade company.

The Fair for Life certification programme was launched in Switzerland in 2006 by the Bio-Foundation and IMO (Institute for Market ecology) with the explicit intention of setting itself apart from the system established by FLO International. The objective was to allow all fair trade producers and operators – including those who were unable to join the FLO system – to benefit from independent certification evidencing their observance of criteria such as: rejection of forced labour and child labour, freedom of association, safe and decent working conditions, etc.

The label promotes a supply chain business model aimed at the resilience of each link. Fair for Life certification is a tool that enables the valorisation and protection of exemplary supply chains, where stakeholders have chosen to act responsibly by implementing good economic, social and environmental practices. By following the framework defined by Fair for Life certification, producers, processors and brand owners can secure their sales and supplies, thanks to tools such as long-term contracts that include fixed prices and volumes, and by establishing a real relationship between them.

Since 2017, the Fair for Life and Ecocert Fair Trade standards have merged into the new Fair for Life certification, managed by Ecocert SA.  

The WFTO guarantee system

In 2013, the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) launched a Fair Trade Guarantee Scheme (10) tailored to its members.

It has five elements: a membership admission procedure, a self-assessment procedure, a monitoring audit, a peer review and the Fair Trade Accountability Watch (FTAW), a participatory monitoring mechanism allowing anyone to denounce non-compliance with the criteria.

Members who pass the various stages of the guarantee system are granted the status of a Guaranteed Fair Trade Organisation. They can then use the WFTO label on their products, a label that certifies compliance with the fair trade criteria established by the WFTO.

At the 2017 General Assembly in Delhi, WFTO decided to open its standards to producers from the North, who must comply with WFTO’s basic requirements and the 10 principles of fair trade.

In addition, to become members of WFTO, Northern organisations must be or work with a group (i.e. an association or cooperative) of economically marginalised small producers, artisans or farmers.

Small producers (artisans or farmers) are defined as organisations operating on a small scale and cannot afford to supply large volumes as industrialised producers.

If they are farmers, they must be certified as organic or be converting to, or be involved in a participatory guarantee system (PGS). (11) 

Max Havelaar France

The best-known fair trade label, Fairtrade, does not currently certify ‘North-North’ fair trade products, except in France. Since 5 May 2021, Max Havelaar has been experimenting with extending its mission to fair trade in local products by targeting the wheat sector in the Gers and the milk sector in Charentes and Poitou. 

Max Havelaar uses a method of setting the guaranteed price according to the territory and a quantified income target. “We have used the lessons learnt from our historical sectors to create these new specifications adapted to France, in dialogue with the producers,” says Blaise Desbordes, CEO of Max Havelaar France.

The traditional collective premium for fair trade, automatic eligibility in the event of conversion to organic farming, and specifications compatible with the High Environmental Value (HEV) are tools for supporting sustainable agriculture. The territorial approach and the eligibility of young people setting up in agriculture will contribute to maintaining agricultural activity in areas in decline. The Fairtrade logo may be used on products with a distinctive Northern reference.

Other pilot projects are planned in Spain and Italy for crops such as tomatoes and oranges.

The main guarantees of the Fairtrade/Max Havelaar standard for the wheat and milk sectors in France

For producers

• A minimum price paid to farmers and defined on the basis of cost prices
• A premium financed by all the downstream links of the producer organisation, managed collectively by the producers and dedicated to social projects and the ecological transition
• Commitment of the entire sector to multi-year contracts

To improve the impact of the commitment of the actors of the fair trade sector

• Certification for vulnerable farmers in vulnerable areas
• Certification for young farmers
• Certification designed to support the ecological transition
• Certification for collectively organised farmers

Support of the collective organisation to producers

• Support to achieve certification requirements
• Training in more sustainable practices

For the environment and human health

• Monitoring compliance with the environmental regulatory framework
• Criteria linked to the High Environmental Value certification – HVE
• Controlling the use of plant protection products
• Evolving requirements on the ecological transition markers (use of phytosanitary products, fertilisation, storage of livestock effluents, use of water, soil cover, maintenance of biodiversity areas, animal feed, animal welfare, etc.)

Samuel Poos, Trade for Development Centre coordinator

Photo: F Delventhal
[1] Alter Eco is now part of the Bjorg, Bonneterre et Compagnie company and no longer sells French fair trade products.
[2] Law n°2005-882 from 2 August 2005, in favour of small and medium-sized enterprises (Article 60), amended by law n°2014-856 from 31 July 2014, relating to the social and solidarity economy -Article 94, and by Law No. 2019-486 from 22 May 2019, relating to the growth and transformation of companies – Article 173. Consult the full text of the law and the implementing decrees here: https://www.commercequitable.org/wp-content/uploads/le-commerce-equitable/orientation_reglementation_labelsvf.pdf
[3] https://www.commercequitable.org/notre-collectif/commerce-equitable-origine-france/
[4] Charte du commerce équitable origine France, Principes fondamentaux du commerce équitable appliqués aux agricultures citoyennes et durables en France, 2018.
[5] https://www.biopartenaire.com/
[6] https://www.agriethique.fr
[7] https://www.ethiquable.coop/page-dactualites-mag/bio-equitable-france-nouveau-label-dans-vos-rayons
[8]https://www.fnab.org/nos-actions/filieres-de-commercialisation/1070-qu-est-ce-que-le-label-bio-francais-equitable-porte-par-la-federation-nationale-d-agriculture-biologique-fnab
[9] See the “Some local fair trade initiatives in Europe” section below highlighting the initiatives developed in various European countries and in France in particular. 
[10] http://www.wfto.com/standard-and-guarantee-system
[11] WFTO-Europe, Nothern Producers Within WFTO, Factsheet, avril 2018 : https://wfto-europe.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Factsheet_NorthernProducersWithinWFTO_Apr20182.pdf

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