But instead of backslapping at the Pride hotel, the world’s largest retailer of Fairtrade products precipitated the greatest crisis in the scheme’s 25-year history by telling the 13 major tea groups and their 228,000 co-operative members that it intended to drop the globally known Fairtrade mark for their produce, and replace it with the phrase “fairly traded”.
In place of the strict rules devised by farmers’ groups working with independent development experts to guarantee consumers that small-scale farmers are being rewarded with decent pay and bonuses, the £23bn-a-year retailer said it planned to set up its own in-house certification scheme, set new ethical standards and introduce a different way to pay the groups.
So, the idea has become so mainstream that people are doing it themselves. Seems like a bit of a success really.
Because Sainsbury’s is so important for Fairtrade, the company’s move could be the beginning of the end of the scheme, and lead to lower social and labour standards, more hardship in developing countries and deep confusion among consumers, say some development and ethical trading groups.
“This move by Sainsbury’s represents a tip in the balance back to the powerful retailers,” says Sophi Tranchell, managing director of Divine Chocolate, the highly successful ethical trading company part-owned by tens of thousands of cocoa farmers in Ghana.
And mostly owned by Twin, a £10 million a year NGO providing nice incomes for some number of Jocastas.
Fairtrade took off as an idea in the 1980s as awareness grew in Europe that small farmers in developing countries were being ripped off by a grossly unfair global commodity trading system which perpetuated poverty and penalised the poorest. In 1992, a group of Britain’s leading international charities, including Oxfam and the World Development Movement, picked up on a small Dutch initiative and set up the Fairtrade Foundation.
Fairtrade International being a £20 million a year NGO which provides a nice living for a number of Jocastas.
“Fairtrade is growing worldwide, especially in south-east Asia and eastern Europe. It now benefits 1.6 million farmers worldwide, has 1,240 Fairtrade-certified producer organisations in 75 countries and last year a record £150m was sent as social premium payments to producer groups,” says Darío Soto Abril, the Colombian chief executive of the International Fairtrade organisation.
“The need to change a global food system that exploits both people and planet is greater now than ever,” says Abril. “There are new challenges. Climate change is making life harder for smallholder farmers, there is child exploitation, and many workers in developing countries are paid well below even the extreme poverty level. Fairtrade is changing to take these new challenges into account.”
Says a woman whose nice NGO job, along with that of some number of Jocastas, is threatened.
Development groups question their motives. “Why would a company like Sainsbury’s that has been such a massive champion of Fairtrade decide to take the trusted mark off their tea products, and in the process take power and value away from small African producers who already have so little? At a time when sustainable development and human rights are going up the corporate agenda, it’s hard to follow the company’s reasoning,” said Rachel Wilshaw, Oxfam’s ethical trade manager.
Says bird who can see many Jocasta Jobs heading out the door.
A statement signed by Oxfam, Cafod, Christian Aid, the Women’s Institute and several major ethical trading and co-operative groups together representing millions of consumers, urged it to rethink its plans.
Don’t threaten Jocasta Jobs say Jocastas.
“The principle of a company setting its own standards is fine, but the execution here is flawed,” said Mike Gidney, chief executive of the Fairtrade Foundation in London. The group is funded by the licences it issues to companies and stands to lose tens of thousands of pounds a year from Sainsbury’s withdrawal from tea – and far more if the retailer drops all its other lines.
Terribly important, Jocasta Jobs, aren’t they?