A leading fair trade supplier in Europe, GEPA – The Fair Trade Company is a not-for-profit group which operates under the fair trade principles of the WFTO, partners and trades with 190 cooperatives, supplies 75 per cent of its products as certified organic, and reports a turnover of 61 million euro.

GEPA’s view is that fair trade-certification is necessary in order to prove compliance, push development and increase the credibility of fair trade. It is an instrument and a service, but not an aim in itself. For a 100 per cent fair trade organization, a product label cannot reflect the performance of the organization.

“Our activities are more comprehensive than a specific label could show. The conditions granted by GEPA often exceed the minimum criteria of fair trade certification systems,” GEPA says.

“In contrast, recent developments of Fairtrade International, such as ‘mass balance’ and the ‘Fairtrade Sourcing Program’ are debatable.”

 GEPA works with the following monitoring and certification systems:
* Fairtrade International
* World Fair Trade Organization
* European Fair Trade Association
* IMO Fair for Life, and
* Naturland Fair.

The fair trade certification system defines good minimum standards for companies seeking to trade more fairly, GEPA says. For others, like GEPA, these standards are simply self-evident; of course we pay fair prices, engage in long term relationships, provide pre-financing and promote socially disadvantaged minorities.

“The conditions granted by GEPA often exceed the minimum criteria of fair trade certification systems,” GEPA points out. “We are constantly improving our conditions and criteria: we have substantially increased the content of fair trade ingredients in our mixed products, have physical traceability for all our products, and neither apply mass balance nor the Fairtrade International sourcing program.

“We are still pioneers, e.g. by using Naturland Fair certified milk from small farmers in Germany for our chocolates.

“At present we are introducing wheat from small producers in Italy for our noodles and later for our cookies as well. Doing so, we contribute to the discussion on unfair trade on a global level.

“We are happy to source IMO fair for life certified palm oil from small producers in Ghana.”

GEPA sees the new Guarantee System of WFTO is a big step forward for WFTO members, as it is complying with two mayor demands:
* the possibility of using a WFTO label on products, especially handicraft products
* having a robust and credible control system with external audits on different levels.

“GEPA has contributed in various occasions to the elaboration of this system, we fully support its implementation. Internally we already conducted our self-assessment according to the new system and plan to do the external audit also this year,” it says.

Fairtrade International’s new labelling program such as the Fairtrade Program mark labelling for cocoa allows chocolate companies to use 100% Fairtrade cocoa but other ingredients in the chocolate such as sugar need not be Fairtrade sourced.

GEPA’s view is that Fairtrade International holds that the new program can increase purchases of fairly traded cocoa.

“This might be true. That said, it is a pity that Fairtrade International did not succeed in convincing the big companies to adopt the original Fairtrade requirements regarding physical traceability and fairly traded ingredients in composite products (‘all that can be must be’),” GEPA says.

“The new label is only slightly different from the established Fairtrade-Label. Although it is introduced as a ‘program label’ it appears on the front of the product packaging. This might lead the consumer to believe that the program is about a new product standard.

“Yet, In fact, companies are only obliged to purchase a certain amount of fairly traded cocoa in general. What is more, they are allowed to apply mass balance. Hence, the chocolate bar carrying the new program label may not contain any fairly traded cocoa at all. This is confusing.

“Our experience shows that neither consumers nor retailers are aware of these significant changes. We are afraid they might feel disappointed when they come to understand the real impact of this program.”

GEPA says of course, fair trade cannot solve all problems in the world but it can contribute to improving the living conditions of socially disadvantaged producer groups. What is more, fair trade promotes conversion to organic farming, increase of crop yields, and, as a result, increase of income, above all in rural regions.

Fair trade contributes to avoiding rural exodus and encourages small farmers to reunite in cooperatives and thus to create a lobby of their own. The United Nations General Assembly declared 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives, and 2014 has been declared by FAO the International Year of Family Farming.

Last but not least, fair trade ensures planning reliability, investments in health and education and creates a long-term perspective.

Products are labelled on packaging as ‘Fair’ and although GEPA stopped using the Fairtrade label for most of its products, it has noted a constant increase of sales. Organic certification is a supplementary marketing tool.

An issue for suppliers noted by O.W.N. is that retailer house brand or private label is rapidly expanding on European organic and health food retailer’s shelves.

GEPA sees retailer use of own brands or private labels for fair trade certified products as fierce competitors because they can offer fair trade certified products more cheaply.

“Just to give you a few examples, they can apply mass balance, they don’t sell fair trade products at 100 per cent, they don’t give advisory service to cocoa cooperatives and our conception of fair trade is more ambitious and more costly,” GEPA says.