Social Responsibility Tools Profile - FTUSA


Certification Standards. Fair Trade USA (FTUSA) certifies both wild-caught and farmed seafood, with social responsibility being at the forefront; workers, whether they be fishers, farmers, or processing facility employees, are at the center of our model. The standards cover:

  • Fundamental Rights at Work: prevent discrimination and abuse, eliminate forced labor and human trafficking, protect children, and ensure workers have the freedom to organize and a right to collective bargaining.
  • Conditions of Employment: ensure individuals receive fair wages and benefits, protect their ability to air grievances and communicate concerns, rights awareness, transparent contracts, and ethical recruitment.
  • Worker Health and Safety: ensure healthy and safe working conditions (i.e., the work environment is safe, access to basic needs and services in addition to resources to keep them safe), and individuals work reasonable hours (i.e., no excessive overtime, sufficient rest periods).
  • Worker Voice: ensure systems (tools, training, processes) are in place for fishers, fish farmers, and workers to communicate and work with management on key areas of interest (e.g., working conditions) and supply chain partners to improve terms of trade.

FTUSA recognizes that sustainability is a journey, and thus the standards are structured in a way that allows for continuous improvement over time to achieve superior social, economic, and environmental practices. This stepped approach to full compliance makes progress more accessible and achievable, particularly for small-scale fisheries and fish farms that may need more time to build capacity or gather resources necessary to achieve compliance. When an audit identifies a non-conformity, the fishing or farming operation is required to identify the underlying causes of the non-comformity and implement short-term and long-term actions to address it.

Community Development Funds. A key component of FTUSA’s model is the Fair Trade Premium, which is the additional amount above market price that fishers and fish farmers earn. This Premium is deposited into Community Development Funds, paid by buyers and managed by a democratically elected Fair Trade Committee. The committee is tasked with conducting a needs assessment and bringing identified needs to all participants who vote on how to invest these funds. The Committee is also tasked with managing the implementation of the selected projects. This additional income allows fishers to invest in community development projects like education, healthcare, clean water, and protecting the fisheries or farms that sustain their communities. They themselves decide how these funds should be used to address their unique needs, thus driving economic development and empowerment.


Assurance Model and Social Auditing Methodology. Fair Trade USA’s certification program helps to identify, address, and manage risk in seafood supply chains while ensuring accountability to specific requirements and concrete improvements over time. Fair Trade USA enables certification against its standards by working with third-party Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs) who must follow a standardized assessment process consisting of initial and ongoing surveillance and recertification audits on-site.

CABs must conduct audits based on ISO 19011 auditing methodologies, and must hold current ISO 17065 accreditation for the scope of a relevant standard. FTUSA also requires social auditors to convene opening and closing meetings during on-site assessments, inspect site/s by observing operation/s and daily activities, interview a variety of employees and relevant individuals (workers, management, and producers), and review applicable documents. Finally, CABs must have the capability to perform the assessment services with respect to the scope of certification requested, the location of the operation, any special requirements such as language used by the applicant, in addition to participating in Fair Trade USA CAB training courses.


Transparency and Stakeholder Engagement. As an ISEAL code compliant member, transparency is critically important to how Fair Trade USA operates, and is a key ingredient in one of our core values: integrity. This is apparent in our standards revision process, where we work closely with a diverse range of stakeholders to ensure they meet the ever-evolving needs and expectations of producers, companies, NGOs, and consumers with whom we partner. This ensures our standards reflect the voices of all the stakeholders from a broad range of geographies.

Stakeholder engagement is another crucial element that can be found in many of Fair Trade USA’s values: fairness, community, and impact. We have dedicated on-the-ground field staff who support producer groups in their social responsibility journey. This allows us to keep abreast of how things are progressing in each of our certified supply chains, provide both guidance and oversight in between audits, address challenges and ensure continuous improvement is made over time, and solicit feedback from fishers, fish farmers, and workers. 


  • While worker voice tools are integrated into the standards, and worker voice surveys have been tested periodically, the idea is to make these surveys more regular and use them as a way to verify that these tools are effective in ensuring workers’ voices are heard and the appropriate corrective action is being taken as a result. FTUSA will first pilot more frequent worker voice surveys in our factories program; and hope to roll them out in seafood in the future.
  • We are exploring collaborations with local, on-the-ground organizations. Our standards are normative and cover a range of different countries and fishing and fish farming contexts, so the indicators are not country or region specific. With so much variability by region and country (and oftentimes even community), collaborating is key.

For questions or additional information, please contact Gretchen Thuesen, Program Certification Manager, Seafood & Packaged Goods for FTUSA.