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Organic and Fair Trade Mint Oil: India

By: Rob Hardy, Earthoil, with an introduction by Jeb Gleason-Allured, Editor
Posted: May 27, 2009
Mint farmer

Mint farmer in India.

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While organic raw materials such as essential and vegetable oils are certified under a well recognized organic certification process, no such certification category exists for the same products under fair trade status. Recently, raw material suppliers and organic certification bodies have been working as joint pioneers in an effort to create a separate but relevant standard.

In essence fair trade is a trading partnership based on dialogue, transparency and respect, which seeks and establishes greater equity in international trade. By offering better trading conditions it contributes to sustainable development and secures the rights of disadvantaged producers, workers and their communities. As yet there is no legislation/regulation covering fair-trade, as there is with organic production. However, France now has draft legislation, and there is the potential for EU governance to cover this area at some point in the future.

The current growth in fair trade is dominated by local initiatives under the umbrella of the Fair Trade Labeling Organisations (FLO; www.fairtrade.net). The US-based initiative is Transfair (www.transfairusa.org), with other initiatives such as the Fairtrade Foundation in the United Kingdom (www.fairtrade.org.uk) and Max Havelaar in France (www.maxhavelaar.ch/en). The standards used cover a number of commodities, including coffee, tea, cocoa and several fruits. However, the FLO standards, as yet, do not cover all agricultural product categories. Thus, essential oils and vegetable oils are not yet covered by FLO.

Several organizations are seeking to establish some type of fair or ethical standard for these products to address FLO and other certification organizations’ limited range and specificity of fair trade product standards. As with FLO, they are geared to product certification, as opposed to making a fair-trade claim about an organization/company producing the product. Organic certifiers that currently offer such certification include IMO (Institute of Market Ecology), Naturland (www.naturland.de/welcome.html), Soil Association (www.soilassociation.org) and Ecocert (www.ecocert.com). Their standards are not limited to the current FLO product categories, and therefore allow suppliers to seek objective and independent certification of product ranges.

While different fair trade-type certification bodies offer different standards with differing emphases, they all cover the following principles based on fairness, mutual respect and transparency:

  • Employment is chosen freely.
  • Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are respected.
  •  Working conditions are safe and hygienic.
  • Enforced child labor shall not be used (remembering that, in India and Africa, farms are family enterprises, and children have their duties in support of their family).
  • Living wages are paid.
  • Working hours are not excessive and are reasonable.
  • No discrimination is practiced.
  • Regular employment is provided.
  • No harsh or inhumane treatment is allowed.
  • There should be sustainable trading relationships, based on trust, transparency, equity, accountability and continuity. These should be long term, based on mutual advantage, which includes price stability.
  • There should be a social and cultural emphasis within and external to the business that benefits the wider community.
  • The whole chain of product supply is covered, from farmer to retailer.
  • The environment is both protected and enhanced.

Fair Trade Projects in the Field

Fair/ethical trade is at the very core of a project in Uttar Pradesh, India, where Earthoil works with an organic grower group of over 600 small-scale mint farmers producing organically certified peppermint, spearmint and corn mint oils. These farmers had previously been growing mint oils by conventional means. In 2003, they began to convert the project to organic, overseen by agronomists and field managers who have educated the farmers on organic farming methods, organic certification of land, and associated paperwork and documentation.

Meanwhile, in the foothills of Mount Kenya in Africa, Earthoil Kenya (the African operations arm of the Earthoil Group) is overseeing a community grower group of more than 500 small-scale farmers producing organic essential oils such as tea tree oil, and pressed seed oils such as sunflower oil. Earthoil oversees these operations, training field officers and providing agronomists to deal with all aspects of the farming of these crops.