Will This Certification Change Sustainability in All Industries?

Sep 30, 2022

At The Underswell, we focus on the apparel and footwear industry, but one thing Derek brought up in one of our recent calls is that a lot of, if not most, industries use the same materials. 

Sure, the apparel industry uses materials like cotton that most other industries have no use for, but we actually share a lot of the same materials with the food, beauty, electronics, and many more sectors. Not only do we share the same materials, we also worry about the same impacts on resources too - land, water, social, air, and more. 

Some of the most common materials used are plastics and minerals, and how we get those materials matters. Equally important, how we treat the workforce extracting, producing, and working with these materials and our products across the entire value chain needs to be accounted for. Could the Fair Trade certification be the standard that unites all business sectors?

If you follow the cosmetics or personal care industry, you may have seen the big news that e.l.f Beauty has become the first major cosmetic brand to get Fair Trade certified. What this means is that some 200 products sold by e.l.f will carry the Fair Trade logo on them. For now, the certification applies to only one of its third-party manufacturing facilities (this is why only certain items have the seal and not the entire product line), but e.l.f is working with their suppliers to get more certifications established. 

A crucial part of the Fair Trade model is that every time a product is purchased from the factory, a portion of the cost goes to a fund that the workers at the facility manage and reinvest into their communal well-being. Could be a community garden, a better break room, a daycare facility for kids, etc. We’ve seen lots of cool projects proposed, and put in place. 

When a customer is supporting a brand, who is supporting the workers, who are powering the product, it feels to me a bit like “circularity.” Uniting the brand, customers, suppliers, workforce, and community together is a revolutionary process. Maybe this could be seen as some form of “social circularity?” I’m thinking out loud, but this is a variation of circularity more brands might be able to more readily adopt.


To get Fair Trade certified, brands have to go through rigorous steps to ensure standards are being met. Their Impact Management System (IMS) measures how effective each program is and a few different impact areas like: 

  • Community Education
  • Safe & Secure Workplaces
  • Consumer Education
  • Ethical Supply Chain

Not only are these great metrics to help assess a brand’s impacts, but Fair Trade also aligns with the UN SDGs, so win-win there… 

If you work at a brand and you feel overwhelmed by the scope and scale of change needed to create a more sustainable future, have a look at their Theory of Change model. It helps break down how to make sustainability attainable and how we all play a role in creating a better future. You can also watch this short video on the same topic if you’re more of a visual learner! 

Can the Fair Trade certification really be applied to all industries? Absolutely! There are a number of brands that have products that are Fair Trade certified, ranging from the food industry, to cosmetics, apparel, and even home goods. There aren’t any technology or electronics companies listed yet, but we’re eager for that to change. Did any of your favorite brands make the list?

We’re so excited that e.l.f took a big step in advancing sustainability at their brand and we’re eager to see what they do next. If you want to learn more about all things sustainability, check out our YouTube channel! 

If you have any questions on a sustainability topic or a suggestion for a topic, email us at [email protected] - we’d love to hear from you.

Interested in joining the movement? Sign up for our free weekly newsletter here and ask us about The Academy - a hub for brands, suppliers, and consumers to meet up and solve our most pressing concerns. 

Thanks and have a great weekend!

McKenzie

#keeplearning #fairtrade #sustainablebusiness

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