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Why You Should Boycott Coca-Cola's So-Called Honest Tea

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Fair Trade and Social Justice page and our Genetic Engineering page.

Some of you may already be boycotting companies like Honest Tea whose parent companies donated money to defeat Proposition 37, the GMO labeling initiative in California. In the case of Honest Tea, Coca-Cola, which fully owns Honest Tea, donated $1.7 million dollars while Honest Tea stood mutely by.  Critics point to this as evidence that Coke has bought up Honest Tea as a form of "greenwashing" and a way to gain market share among more ethical consumers without facilitating real change in the marketplace.

But what about Honest Tea itself, it supports fair trade right? If a subsidiary company is truly a transparent and ethical player in the marketplace, we might be able to forgive a few sins of the parent company. But in this, the second in a series on unpacking labels, we reveal a few "fairwashing" problems specific to Honest Tea.

The first, raspberry fields tea, shows a prominent Whole Trade label.  Whole trade is the in-house seal Whole Foods uses to denote products that meet their own quality, environmental, and social criteria, one element of which is certification by a third-party social certifier. In the case of Honest Tea raspberry fields, a product exclusively produced for Whole Foods, that third party certifier is Fair Trade USA.

But take a close look at the ingredients. The only ingredient certified as fair trade is the tea leaves. Sugar, the first ingredient excluding water, is listed as organic but not fair trade. This is a similar problem to the chocolate bars we wrote about last month. Unlike the chocolate case, however, the certifier's own seal is not displayed, presumably because the tea does not meet Fair Trade USA's guidelines for use of seal, requiring more than 20% of the product to be fair trade certified and all commonly certified ingredients (such as sugar) to be so. Yet, the Whole Trade Guarantee label is displayed prominently on the front, so that if you did not stop to look at the ingredients and review the labeling formula, you might grab that tea and assume you are drinking a purely fair trade product. Whole Foods guaranteed it after all.


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