The Bottom line: Simple Comparative Analysis

Bottom Line:

Food Justice Certified is a strong, credible program with an overall high bar approach to both farmers’ welfare and workers’ rights.  There are, however, weaknesses in a small handful of specific areas the DFTA would like to see improvements on.


Associated Organization: Agricultural Justice Project and AJP partners: The Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA), The Farmworker Support Committee (CATA), Florida Organic Growers (FOG), and the Northeastern Organic Farming Association (NOFA).

Program Claim (as described by the program itself): Food Justice Certified is a label based on high-bar social justice standards for farms, processors, and retailers, including every link in the food chain from seed to table. Our approach is holistic; we ensure fair treatment of workers, fair pricing for farmers, and fair business practices. FJC is designed for all agricultural production systems, fiber and cosmetics as well as food.

Web link to program description/label/claim:

Resources used for review: Social Stewardship Standards in Organic and Sustainable Agriculture Standards Document July 2010, Agricultural?Justice?Project Policy?Manual Food?Justice?Certification?Program?September?2012,?Standards Revisions September 2012, Public Comment Period June 13 – July 13 2012, Response to Comments Public Comment Period June 13 – July 13, 2012, Summary of changes to standards, Response to Comments submitted on revision of AJP Standards, AJP?Licensing?Fees?for?Certified?Entities:?Sept.?19,?2012, AJP Memo of Understanding (MOU) Template AJP Oversight and Approval of Certifiers Updated February 2012, Draft AJP Bylaws 10-03-12, Guidance: Clarifying standards intent: Ability to renegotiate in an emergency, Guidance Clarifying standards intent: Required trainings must be on the clock, Guidance Additional guidance for inspection process: Considering changes in relationships, Guidance on Overtime Clarifying standards intent: voluntary nature of overtime, AJP DFTA Criteria Assessment Response July 10, 2013, website, personal communications (email and phone)

Summary of DFTA findings:   

Food Justice Certified is a certification offered by the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP), a partnership between four NGOs (listed above).  AJP’s labeling rules allow for Fair Farm to be used on the seal when the product originates from a farm is certified to the labor standards, and with an additional Fair Farm Fair Company claim when the buyer(s) are certified as well to ensure a fair transaction.  (The labeling rules are stringent and can be found in the Policy Manual.)  AJP trains and approves established certifiers to implement the program, and is currently active in North America (U.S. and Canada). 

AJP’s Food Justice Certified is overall a strong program.  Of fifteen program areas that the DFTA evaluates, this program meets all the essential (most critical) criteria in all fifteen areas.  In 13 of the 15 the program also meets an additional threshold of additional, less essential but still important criteria.   It has a straightforward approach, using a template similar to organic certification standards, rather than a point system such as is used by some other fair trade/ social justice programs.  This makes the standards and program easier to understand in terms of how it will be implemented and simpler to evaluate against DFTA criteria; at the same time, it can make the program somewhat less flexible than others. 

AJP has solid stakeholder involvement, including some innovations such as including workers’ associations or unions in the monitoring of working conditions.  One positive step is to post on its website operations that have applied for certification for a public consultation period.  AJP also scores very well on issues of governance, transparency, accountability, and implementation.  AJP has extensive language on decision making and appeals /complaints processes, all of which is readily accessible to the public.   (It should be noted that AJP plans in the future to set up a system of oversight of certifiers, still under development.)

In the area of sustainability, AJP prohibits GMOs from both crop production and inclusion in labeled products, and is the only program so far assessed by DFTA to address nanotechnology (by prohibiting it).  By requiring organic certification of all farming operations, AJP is ensuring a strong environmental component, and also has stringent occupational health and safety standards.  (AJP is leaving open the possibility for the future of certifying non-organic farms to IPM “least toxic” standards; AJP has informed DFTA that at this point it will only pilot such a scenario.  When that occurs DFTA will have to evaluate the way it is being carried out.)  At the same time, there is room for improvement: certain topics such as water usage, energy management, and carbon footprint are not addressed directly as is the case of some other fair trade programs, in particular for the non-farm businesses that participate in the program. 

DFTA evaluates programs using criteria based on fifteen Principles.  AJP fully meets the DFTA threshold for thirteen of these.  There are only two areas in which AJP does not fully meet the DFTA threshold but even in these cases the program meets all the criteria DFTA has deemed to be essential.  The DFTA would like to see the program implement some reforms and improvements, in particular around the offering of credit to under-resourced farmers (see below), strengthening language surrounding community impact, and establishing a means to measure the program’s outcomes.

On the topic of Shared Risk and Affordable Credit, AJP has communicated to DFTA that in its opinion the DFTA criteria should not be considered applicable for the Global North context, where AJP is currently active, stating:  We are very aware of the many challenges that farmers face in obtaining fair credit. However in the North American context, there are many more options than in the Global South – from private banks, to Credit Unions, to state and federally-backed lending institutions formed to specifically address farmers’ needs for “lenders of last resort”.

It is also worth noting AJP’s work in the area of indigenous peoples’ rights.  Currently the program does not have standards that specifically address this community, but AJP has drafted an Indigenous Rights standard with significant input from indigenous representatives, but does not feel that adequate stakeholder involvement is in place yet to adopt it.  It remains a goal of the program.  AJP has included indigenous peoples and their organizations (both from the global South and from North America) in their standard setting and governance in general, and considers indigenous communities to be a stakeholder group to be included in its advisory processes.

The full evaluation of Food Justice Certified can be found here.

Key to Chart
The program is exemplary and meets the DFTA's criteria expectations. The program has some innovative approaches to this issue that may serve as a model.
The program appears to have a comprehensive approach to this issue in general alignment with DFTA criteria. There are some concerns or issues to highlight regarding the program's approach to this issue.
The program addresses this issue and may meet some of the criteria, but significant concerns, questions, or shortcomings compromise the approach. There is inadequate information or outstanding questions preventing a reliable assessment of the program's approach to this issue.
The program either does not address the issue at all, or clearly fails to address it in a manner consistent with DFTA criteria. Not applicable / not addressed by program
Summary Indicator
1. Supports small scale and/or family farms
2. Ensures decent working conditions for farm and food workers
3. Supports long-term, direct, and fair trading relationships
4. Adequately restricts materials and practices that are harmful to people and the environment
5. The program is implemented well and has thorough monitoring in place

For a print version of this summary, please click here.