As a Fairtrade brand we like to support and keep up-to-date with the goings on surrounding the Foundation and this summer has seen many changes to do with Fairtrade and the companies it works with. So, is the Fairtrade Foundation at risk?
First, we’ll tell you a little bit about it. Fairtrade (as the name suggests) aims to increase the fairness involved in the trade between farmers who produce food and the companies who buy it. They do this by setting social, economic and environmental standards for both farmers and companies to follow. This includes things like protection of workers’ rights and the Fairtrade Minimum Price. To ensure this is occurring right through the supply chain they will independently check that the standards have been met and, where they have, the Fairtrade mark will be placed on the end product. As well as this, Fairtrade lobby the Government to demand fairer treatment in trade deals and increase public awareness of unfair trade.
So… it sounds great! What’s the issue here?
Basically, a number of companies and brands are moving away from Fairtrade.
Sainsbury’s are replacing the Fairtrade tea on their shelves with an own-brand ‘Fairly Traded’ tea. This is starting as a pilot but it is expected that they will roll out these new standards across other products, such as bananas and coffee. Sainsbury’s is very important to Fairtrade so, according to some, the company’s move may be the beginning of the end for Fairtrade. Rumours of Tesco and other companies following suit increases the chances of this.
The foundation are concerned with the ‘untested model’ of Fairly Traded (and most probably the other schemes that will appear in the near future) which apparently will not help the most marginalized farmers. According to some ethical trading groups, having untested models may result in lower social and labour standards, more hardship in developing countries and confusion among consumers. One way in which this confusion may arise is Sainsbury’s choosing a logo for Fairly Traded that is similar to that of Fairtrade.
Michael Gidney, he CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation, explains: “Fairtrade and Sainsbury’s have worked together for many years and we are rightfully proud of what we have achieved for some of the world’s most marginalised farmers. Whilst we welcome and expect companies to work towards improving social, economic and environmental outcomes within their supply chains, we don’t believe the execution of this current model will, on balance, deliver positive changes for tea farmers. Therefore, at this stage we are unable to partner with the Sainsbury’s Foundation as it does not yet meet our core priniciples, particularly in the area of producer empowerment.”
With regards to tea particularly, the increasing supply chain pressures to reduce tea prices are often passed onto the small-scale farmers that produce it, reducing already-low incomes and pushing them further into poverty. For example, in 2014 prices of tea in Malawi fell to $1.15 per kilo, which was below the cost of production. However, those who sold on Fairtrade terms earned at least the Fairtrade Minimum Price of $1.40 per kilo, which acts as a safety net by covering their average production cost.
That’s just one example of why Fairtrade is such an important foundation – the value of the scheme to farmers is undeniable and the fact it is at risk could do great harm. That’s not to say that Sainsbury’s Fairly Traded scheme and any other new ones that roll out aren’t of any value, but Fairtrade has been around since the mid-1900s and has experience, knowledge and a great reputation in this area. Sainsbury’s are riding off decades of effort by Fairtrade, as well as potentially impacting the work of Fairtrade who are a bigger organisation and help more people. Why fix something that isn’t broken? Especially if it’s being replaced by something that might not be quite as good.
Tea producers themselves wrote an open letter to convey their uncertainity about Sainsbury’s model. “We told Sainsbury’s loud and clear: your model will bring about disempowerment. We are extremely concerned about the power and control that Sainsbury’s seeks to exert over us.” This is incredibly worrying because the people who the scheme is intended to benefit are concerned with its ability to do so.
The importance of Fairtrade tea is undeniable. The fact that it’s at risk could cause major issues. So, let’s just hope Fairtrade can continue its great work and isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
If you want to share your opinions with us on this issue, we’d love to hear them. Just message us on any of our social media sites!
The Froo-t Team x