Challenging the Label
Certification systems and ecolabels are often used as a way to inform consumers about a company or product. These labels are designed to ‘make it easy to take environmental concerns into account when shopping’, and can be a method to add value for a producer. However, labels can be deceiving in a number of ways:
“Sustainability claims have become widespread in the modern marketplace, and with it greenwashing has expanded. The practice of making empty, unfounded or exaggerated sustainability claims risks alienating buyers committed to sustainable development. Not all claims are equal, and the systems behind claims are diverse – claims based on sustainability standards and certification are just one type. For governments, businesses or customers, navigating the claims landscape can feel like a jungle – or even a minefield – full of non-credible options.”
– ISEAL Alliance, challengethelabel.org
We at the Mangrove Action Project have experienced this problem first-hand during the formation of the Aquaculture Stewardship Council standards by the World Wildlife to certify farmed shrimp Foundation. MAP, along with many other NGOs, spoke out against this certification, arguing that it failed to adequately address the needs of indigenous peoples and did not protect mangroves, as well as many other salient omissions.
Today, we continue to advocate for higher requirements for these standards. Every individual has a voice when it comes to our food. Our focus may be on imported, farmed shrimp, but ecolabels are everywhere. Many are an important step forward, but all of them should have a specific commitment to continue improving and raising standards as time goes on. We need your help to do just that.
And all you need to do is start by asking, “Where does my shrimp come from?” We don’t mean just the place it was grown, but what the pond was like, what the coast was like before the pond was built, what village or villages did that pond impact when it was constructed? If the shrimp is certified, what does that certification mean? Were the standards actually followed? Are they possible to be followed? Does this label mean communities gain some benefit for producing under theses standards?
One question leads to another, and another, and another, but you’re not alone. People all over the world are starting to ask these questions, and they are waiting for you to join them.
Resources to understand ecolabels
There are hundreds of ecolabels out there. How are you supposed to understand them all? You aren’t. Here are some resources to help you make decisions about what labels you want to honor when you make purchases.
Challenge the Label
The Challenge the Label webpage is a tool for claims users to detangle this busy space and distinguish between credible and non-credible claims. It aims to improve educated decision-making by leading people through the key questions in understanding a claim or label. The Challenge the Label initiative was set up by the ISEAL Alliance, the global membership association for sustainability standards. ISEAL convened a multi-stakeholder Steering Committee to oversee the development of its guidance on sustainability claims. The Committee consists of sustainability experts from government, business, the consumer movement, and leading NGOs and certification initiatives.
Ecolabel Index is the largest global directory of ecolabels, currently tracking 463 ecolabels in 199 countries, and 25 industry sectors. The Index has basic information about what the label claims to be, but details of their assessments are only available via subscription.
Greener Choices Ecolabel Center
Consumer Reports has done its own assessment on a number of ecolabels as part of their Greener Choices program, available at no cost. The Ecolabel Center allows you to search by a number of different categories.