Fairtrade and Fairly Traded
Monday, 10 July 2017 | Joanna
Supermarket chain Sainsbury's hit the headlines in 2007 when it became the first of the "big four" to switch all its bananas to Fairtrade. Waitrose and the Co-op also make the same commitment, and both have recently strengthened their commitment to Fairtrade goods - the Co-op started to sourcing only Fairtrade cocoa for all its own brand products, and Waitrose has committed to Fairtrade for all 49 of its own brand teas. Sainsbury's remains the biggest seller of Fairtrade goods in the UK and its takeover of Argos, for example, resulted in it becoming the first major jewellery chain to sell Fairtrade gold wedding rings. But recent moves to change its own brand tea from Fairtrade certified - using the Fairtrade mark - to "Fairly Traded" has resulted in campaigners, the Fairtrade Foundation, MPs led by Caroline Lucas and and customers questioning this change. A petition asking Sainsbury's to reconsider has reached over 88,000 signatories. So what does this mean for farmers and consumers?
Fairtrade tea is grown by farmers who receive a guaranteed price - which will always cover the cost of production and a fair wage - as well as a premium which is invested in community projects. Different communities have different needs so sometimes this money is invested in schools and clinics, roads and bridges, buses and bicycles or improving their farmers' knowledge, skills and equipment. Fairtrade certification means, among other things, that farmers commit to using no harmful pesticides, no child or indentured labour, and decent working hours. The new "fairly traded" tea will largely be sourced from the same farmers who used to grow the Fairtrade tea, so they don't lose the work, but the crucial difference is in the use of the premium. Instead of handing the premium over to tea farmers so they can decide as a community what to spend it on, Sainsbury's plans to set up its own Foundation to which farmers must apply for funding for these community projects. Understandably farmers feel this disempowers them, and having to complete a grant application and submit it to London can be intimidating for farmers. Read their open letter to Sainsbury's here.
A group of activists and supporters visited the Sainsbury's AGM last week to ask shareholders to reject the pilot and continue with its support for Fairtrade. The new system is designed as a pilot, which is extremely worrying for farmers who grow other Fairtrade crops like coffee, bananas and cocoa. One of the more confusing aspects of the change is the use of the phrase "Fairly traded". While the use of "Fairtrade" is restricted because it is trademarked, there are no restrictions on what can be described as "fairly traded" or "fair trade". Fairtrade standards only exist for a small number of commodities. Fair trade shops and suppliers who like us are members of BAFTS or WFTO sell goods that have been produced under the Ten Principles of Fair Trade. Often members describe their goods as fairly traded, perfectly legitimately as they are able to show how they adhere to the principles. "Fairly traded" should not be seen as a watered down version of Fairtrade, but as a way to describe goods for which Fairtrade standards have not been developed.
We always tell customers to question everything. When goods are described as fair trade, asking the person selling it what this means to them is important. When you buy Sainsbury's Fairly traded tea we think you deserve to know what it means for farmers, and how choosing a Fairtrade tea would be different.
We'll be keeping an eye on developments with this pilot from Sainsbury's and we'll be sure to keep our customers updated.