The FairWild Seal: “Getting the Consumers on Board”

Producers, traders and consumers of organic products with wild plant ingredients are sometimes faced with a problem: the sustainability of procurement is difficult to track, and even existing organic labels do not offer any security. This is where the FairWild certification system comes in – and calls for more educational work with consumers.

Plants collected in the wild are a component of medicines and food, teas and above all natural cosmetics. However, retailers and manufacturers find it difficult to ensure sustainable procurement. A number of international agreements such as the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) aim to promote the sustainability of wild collection. However, their regulations only cover a small part of the wild plants used worldwide.Organic labels offer no security.

But the existing seals are not much help in this regard. “Even if the plant product in question has been certified as an organic product under the EU Regulation on the Labelling of Organic Products, no detailed standards need to be verified in order to specify what constitutes the sustainability of an organic wild plant collection,” criticizes the non-governmental organisation Traffic, based in Cambridge, England, which deals with the trade in wild animals and plants with a view to sustainable development and the conservation of biological diversity.

Private seals are a step further. The most comprehensive certification system for wildly collected plant species is the FairWild standard introduced in 2008 by the foundation of the same name. Its aim is to provide a global framework for implementing a sustainable and fair trading system for wild plants and their products. FairWild checks whether withdrawals are legal and collects, among other things, data on harvest volumes. Although the FairWild seal cannot replace a CITES inspection, it may facilitate the approval process by transmitting data from the certification to CITES authorities in the inspection process.

“FairWild” certified companies must meet a number of social and ecological criteria that are checked by independent auditors. These include the implementation of resource management plans, adherence to sustainable collection procedures, with a quantity limit where appropriate, and fair payment to wild collection operations is carried out. There are currently more than 20 certified plant species that are purchased from farms in ten countries under the FairWild system.

“The biggest hurdle is ignorance”

Nevertheless, adoption of the FairWild standard has been slower than expected by the initiators. “The biggest hurdle seems to be the general ignorance of consumers, and often also of producers, about raw materials originating from wild collection in production,” Traffic says.

The non-governmental organization calls on manufacturers and retailers to make greater efforts to find out where the ingredients in their products come from. Collection practices should be assessed for environmental and social sustainability using independent criteria and purchasing decisions should be tailored accordingly. One of the members of the Board of Trustees of the FairWild Foundation is Sebastian Pole, co-founder of the tea producer Pukka Herbs.

Companies play it safe if they only buy wild plant products whose origin is fully traceable. As a guide, Traffic has published a list of wild plants that manufacturers and retailers should look out for in their products because they are subject to increased collection pressure or are found in supply chains with socially problematic trading practices. These include shea butter and candelilla, as well as gum arabic, frankincense, jatamansi, argan oil, the baobab fruit, liquorice, and juniper.

Clear labelling at the POS: Model FSC seal   

It is equally important for producers and distributors to make this information available to the public and to educate consumers. “In contrast to wood products, where many consumers consciously avoid tropical wood, the focus of buyers of natural cosmetics is usually only on the naturalness of the ingredients,” says David Harter of the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN). Where and how they are harvested, however, is hardly important.

Traffic believes that many consumers, as in the organic segment, would be prepared to pay a higher price for such products. However, this would require the introduction of a clear labelling system, especially at the point of sale of the end product. David Harter of the BfN also says that much would be achieved if a seal for sustainable wild collection could achieve similar recognition as the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) seal.