Fair trade coffee buyers, beware: those certification labels may be fake.
TransFair, the Canadian organization that independently audits and certifies fair trade goods, says more than 450,000 kilograms of coffee sold in Canada with fair trade labels last year had no certification from the group.
"We have Canadian companies buying fair trade certified coffee and not paying licensing fees to TransFair, which is how we support the farmers," says TransFair executive director Rob Clarke.
Companies fingered by TransFair say their farmers and producers are receiving compensation, but TransFair says there's no paper trail to back up these claims.
TransFair makes sure companies offer farmers in developing countries higher prices than they would typically receive for their goods on the world commodity markets, which helps stimulate social and environmental development as well as improving labour condition.
Merchants of Green Coffee co-founder Brad Zavislake, a licensed fair trade retailer on Matilda Street, says the feds should be putting pressure on manufacturers and companies to label appropriately or face stiff fines.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency spokesperson Sue Robertson says the government does have the power to enforce penalties and fines of up to $50,000 for tampering with certification labels. The problem is there's no accepted definition of what constitutes fair trade.
However, not all fair trade advocates agree that federal intervention would change the number of uncertified products sporting fair trade stickers.
Equita, a Montreal-based fair trade network, points out that there's currently no certification system for handicrafts - TransFair only certifies food items.
"How are you going to police every store and check every product and verify?" asks Equita Toronto spokesperson Suresh Tumkur. "Still, it'd be nice if the government defined what fair trade is. Right now, they're just two words in the English language."