Fair Trade USA, Oakland, Calif., and Norwich, N.Y.-based Chobani LLC announced the launch of a groundbreaking certification program for U.S. dairy farms and cooperatives. The program provides financial premiums to dairy farmers and workers, which will help protect and empower them while raising sustainability standards. 

The announcement is an outgrowth of Fair Trade USA’s partnership with Chobani, which announced its Milk Matters program in 2019 to further its commitment to support economic, environmental and social standards throughout the company’s milk supply chain. The certification program is available to milk producers throughout the United States, the organizations said.

Chobani is releasing Fair Trade Certified Greek yogurt versions for all of its 32-ounce multi-serve tubs, including Whole Milk Plain, Low Fat Plain, Non-Fat Plain, Strawberry Blended and Vanilla Blended. Chobani’s Fair Trade Certified yogurt products are sold nationally at all major grocery and retail stores and are produced at Chobani’s Twin Falls, Idaho, and South Edmeston, N.Y., production facilities, the organizations said. Chobani plans to expand the certification to other products. 

Fair Trade certification provides farm owners and cooperatives with an opportunity to differentiate, increase engagement with consumers and receive a financial premium for their investments. Certification also provides greater support for farm workers in an industry that can face challenges in workforce availability, working hours, and farm safety.

An immigrant workforce, which makes up an estimated half of the U.S. dairy workforce and is especially vulnerable to these issues because of limited legal protections, will also benefit from Fair Trade USA’s new dairy program, the organizations said. In collaboration with experts and organizations already working in the space, Fair Trade USA plans to develop an environmental component to this program that will address the unique challenges of the dairy industry.

“I come from a farming family and I worked at a dairy farm in Upstate New York, so I know firsthand the magic of the dairy industry, but it’s hard work and farm families face many challenges in today’s marketplace,” said Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani. “Fair Trade USA’s certification — the first ever in the U.S. dairy industry — will help our dairy farmers build on their hard work to raise farming standards, take care of their workers — many of whom they consider family — [and] ensure the wellbeing of their animals and their land, while giving consumers greater peace of mind that the dairy they buy demonstrates a commitment to positive economic, environmental and social pillars.”

Since 1998, Fair Trade producers in more than 45 countries have earned more than $465 million in community development funds, which they have used to address their communities’ greatest needs, including enhanced safety, environmental protection, education, health care and clean water, the organizations said. The Fair Trade Certified seal spans more than 30 product categories and can be found in nearly every aisle of the grocery store and beyond. 

“Fair trade is often associated with commodities like coffee, cocoa and textiles produced in the Global South, and not as known within agricultural and farming operations here in America,” said Paul Rice, CEO, Fair Trade USA. “We believe in bringing the benefits of fair trade to as many in the industry as possible to create impact.

“Today, that opportunity is in the U.S. dairy sector,” he added. “The rigorous, time-tested standards, certification systems and training programs we’ve developed to protect and empower producers, workers and their communities around the globe will now deliver value to the U.S. dairy producers and workers. We are thrilled to partner with ethically minded companies like Chobani to bring certified product to the market so consumers have more conscious dairy options.”

As part of Chobani’s Milk Matters initiative, Fair Trade USA initiated a pilot program with dairy farms and cooperatives in New York and Idaho to determine how the organization’s Agricultural Production Standard (APS) — used for certification of a wide range of crop and farm settings around the world — could be applied to the dairy industry. The end result, a version of the APS modified for the dairy industry, is now being offered to all dairy farms and cooperatives throughout the United States, the organizations said. 

Fair Trade USA’s APS incorporates standards and processes developed by the globally recognized International Labor Organization (ILO). Fair Trade USA is also a member of ISEAL, the international organization driving the advancement of collaborative and transparent sustainability solutions. 

The Fair Trade certification process involves a series of modules that incorporate systems, operations, implementation and auditing of Fair Trade USA’s APS that are designed to ensure product traceability, supply chain transparency and implementation of an internal management system to monitor compliance and progress. The standard also serves as a foundation to ensure safe work conditions, freedom of association, protections against harassment and discrimination, provision of benefits, clear terms of employment and pay slips, reasonable working hours, safe and sanitary housing conditions and increased access to on-the-job training, the organizations said.

The certification process typically takes six to nine months to complete, and when certified, milk buyers are authorized to promote their products using the widely recognized Fair Trade Certified seal. When Fair Trade Certified milk is purchased, buyers pay an extra amount — the Fair Trade Premium — which is allocated to a community development fund. The funds support democratically selected projects and on-farm investments that enhance the working environment. A portion of the funds are also available to support investments required to come into compliance with the Fair Trade Standard and projects to deliver on the goals and intentions of the Fair Trade program.

"Along with care for animals and stewardship of the environment, providing a safe and quality workplace is of critical importance for dairy farmers, their employees and our industry,” said David Darr, senior vice president and chief strategy and sustainability officer, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA). “DFA is proud to work with Fair Trade and Chobani on this innovative pilot. Through this program dairy farmers and dairy farm employees will have access to new resources that can be used to collaborate on impactful initiatives in their businesses and their communities.”

For more information about Fair Trade USA’s dairy certification program, contact Molly Renaldo, partnerships manager, at mrenaldo@fairtradeusa.org.