It dates back to cosmetic manufacturer Dr. Bronner’s challenge to the National Advertising Division (NAD) over the truthfulness and accuracy of claims made with respect to “Fair Trade Certified” seals licensed by Fair Trade USA.
Dr. Bronner argued that the use of the ingredient seal for composite products falsely implied that fair-trade sourced ingredients constituted a substantial part of the product.
However the NAD rejected this challenge stating that the use of the ingredient seal on the front panel of product packaging accurately conveyed the degree to which fair trade sourced ingredients are included in the product.
This led to the appeal to NARB which said that “while it is not the panel’s role to determine acceptable thresholds or standards used by certifying organizations, it is the panel’s role to recommend changes it believes are necessary to ensure that fair trade certification seals convey an accurate message to consumers.”
“The fact that there are no generally accepted or legally required thresholds for the amount of fair trade sourced ingredients in composite products … makes it even more important that consumers receive an accurate message as to the fair trade content in products displaying the seal.”
Specifically, the panel found that the placement of the “Fair Trade Certified” ingredient seal on the front of a package conveyed a message of significance to consumers.
The “identification of fair trade sourced ingredients on the ingredients panel, which normally appears on the back or side of the packaging, is not enough to overcome or qualify the implied message of significance conveyed on the front of the package,” the panel stated.
As such the panel recommended that Fair Trade USA qualify the seal’s message by indicating the relative percentage by weight of ingredients that are fair trade sourced in order to convey an accurate message to consumers.
In response, Fair Trade USA said that it had made “several important changes [following the NAD investigation], including the creation of new and easier to distinguish seals, the requirement that certified products contain substantially higher minimum fair trade sourced ingredients.”
“As part of its ongoing review process, Fair Trade USA intends to follow the recommendations of NARB in order to further strengthen the Fair Trade USA multiple ingredients product policy.”