My colleague Samuel Poos of the Belgian Fair Trade Center announces on his blog the end of FLO/Fairtrade/Max Havelaar monopoly in fair trade certification. This is a 100% sure news, as Ecocert has been developing for a few years now a set of standards called ESR (for French Equitable, Solidaire, Responsable). Don't confuse Ecocert's ESR with and by the "Ecosystem Services Review", an evaluation tool set up by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. The second version of Ecocert ESR has been published recently, and the first products certified under those standards are arriving in France.
The process is a bit similar to that of all formal certification process, with on the field audits, traceability review, etc. And an important part of the inspection costs paid by the producers. Other guarantee systems are more iparticipative, and thus much cheaper. But formal certification is well adapted to mass market.
To my opinon, the end of the FLO monopoly in Fair Trade certification is a good thing, as it introduces some healthy competition in certification, and will hopefully oblige FLO to clarify some not-so-clear aspects of its work. For example, since its creation in the 90's FLO has set up a double standard for fair trade products, which the consumer generally is unaware of.
In many products, such as tea or bananas (with the exception of coffee), there is a set of standards for small-scale producers organizations and another set for plantation. The list of products with double standards is easily obtained from FLO's web site.
The problem is not in this double standard. It is in the fact that, for the consumer, and in FLO's own communication, fair trade equals "small-scale producers from the South", not more or less ethical plantations.
I have been advocating, with others, for years for different denomination for the two different processes, for instance: fair trade and ethical trade. Ecocert's ESR standards only contemplate trade from small-scale producers organizations from countries of the South. It excludes plantations. There are other improvements to this set of standards, compared to FLO's, such as the possibility to do joint organic / fair trade certification. They are not perfect, but at least they allow a long awaited for debate on fair tarde certification.