As Valentine’s day is fast approaching, what better way to show your love than using your purchasing power to spread your love (money) to the world, and send someone flowers! The most well-known natural food store in the U.S. Whole Foods™ launched their Whole Trade® Guarantee in 2007. This certification program supposedly requires products to meet the four key criteria required by Whole Trade® Guarantee: quality, premium price to the producer, better wages and working conditions, and the environment.
This label is wonderful right? It takes away the guilt that could come from being a consumer, and leaves you feeling great about your purchase! But what is the purpose of this guarantee? Who benefits most from this stamp of approval?
There are three stakeholders involved to compare: us (as consumers), them (third world countries), and The Whole Foods Market ™.
We as consumers like to feel that we hold purchasing power, and can vote through what we buy - of course, this too has its problems when dealing with socio-economic power – and sometimes will spend extra money to create change. Our consumer power in fact has shaped the growing demand for socially responsible goods.
Then there are the “third world countries”, which I prefer to reference as the global south. Are they truly benefitting from our flower purchase? According to the Whole Trade® Guarantee, the purchase of a certified product contributes to building schools, better worker wages, and 1% of profits goes towards Whole Planet® Foundation, a foundation meant to help give micro-loans in third world countries. (Micro-loans in fact have an ethical debate attached to them as well).
So the quest continues, who holds the real benefit here? I would argue that the greatest benefit is going to Whole Foods Market™. This seems like the ultimate marketing tactic to reach their target market of health and wellbeing conscious upper-class consumers. Notice how every single aspect of this certification involves Trademark symbols, and whole foods branding recognition. It seems to me that if they were serious about benefitting the consumer, third world countries, and the planet, they would use third parties such as Fair Trade, Equal Exchange, and other tools to certify that they are truly being as socially conscious as can be. With their own certification they hold the power to set the criteria for themselves within lines of their bottom line.
There are endless debates about labeling, and whether it should be governed publically, privately, or through a third party. I think the Whole Trade® Guarantee is a great example that brings fourth some of these integral questions.