The issue of certification Edit
> "Standards are great, everybody should have one."
In the past 20 years, certification has become the primary mechanism for addressing consumer concerns regarding health, environment, and human rights. Recent increases in the number and types of certifying agencies indicates a strong demand for this type of information in the market. In the US, the National Organic Program lists 95 accredited agents for organic products according to the USDA definition. Fair Trade (Trans Fair in the US), Fair Trade Federation, Rain Forest Alliance, and other NGO's all promote their own notion of equitable trade. In addition, major manufacturers like Starbuck's have created their own certification programs for suppliers.
The independent Forest Stewardship Council and Marine Stewardship Council protect everyone's long-term interest by certifying the sustainability of harvesting forest and marine products. A number of competing, industry-backed certification initiatives have also arisen in these markets.
This maze of certification creates uncertainty and confusion for both producers and customers. Worse, the cost and administrative overhead of certification creates enormous barriers for small producers. These family farmers and other small scale producers stand to benefit the most from certification programs that could help level the playing field and bring better quality goods to market in a sustainable way.
Augmenting certification with the origins wiki Edit
The origins wiki was founded on the belief that both buyers and sellers benefit from access to information about the production process. Just like credit reporting agencies track information across all lenders and borrowers, the origins site should track information across all producers and consumers about who is "borrowing" from our resource bank of clean air, water, soil, and who pays back their debts.
Ideally, the origins wiki will augment the certification processes in at least two ways. First, any producer can be listed in the origins wiki. (Certifications are generally "opt-in" processes which require the producer themselves to volunteer for and pay for inspections. This is like a credit reporting agency that only provides reports and borrowers who have paid to be listed by the agency.)
Secondly, the origins wiki simply provides factual information and not any kind of criteria or endorsement of products. This information can and should be used by existing certification agencies as well as individual buyers to decide which producers and products best fit their particular values. (Today, a single producer might be visited by four or five different inspectors for each type of certification such as organic, fair trade, rain forest alliance, etc.. A common repository of production information will hopefully reduce the overall cost and improve the efficiency of the existing certification agencies and open up the process to greater participation.)