There has been much talk in Fairtrade over the last few years about “scaling up with integrity” or “mainstreaming” – i.e. growing the Fairtrade system by working with big corporate players while also ensuring that the core values and social, economic and environmental standards of Fairtrade are not compromised.
Although there have been some original principles that have fallen by the wayside – the basic Fairtrade proposition has remained the same. It is a product-based certification system, in which all ingredients in a product that can be Fairtrade must be Fairtrade, with guaranteed prices for producers, including a minimum price, a Fairtrade premium and an organic premium, social and environmental standards, and obligations on traders and importers.
Despite the rise of numerous alternative certification systems, Fairtrade has mostly stuck to its guns and kept the same model, arguably the gold standard of ethical certification marks. And a campaigner movement of activist consumers – particularly in the UK – has responded to that gold standard and voted with their wallets.
That now looks set to be shaken up, as Fairtrade International have launched a new business model that gives companies a wider and more flexible range of options for engaging with the Fairtrade system. The model is called ‘Fairtrade Sourcing Programs’ and currently applies to three commodities: cocoa, cotton and sugar.
'Behind the Brands' examines company policies in seven areas: women, small-scale farmers, farm workers, water, land, climate change and transparency.
Following the publication of the report and associated campaigning by Oxfam, the three big chocolate industry players - Mars, Nestlé and Mondelēz International (which used to be Kraft) - have all responded by making commitments to tackle gender inequality.
"The impact of Mondelēz International, Mars and Nestlé's promises, if kept, will reverberate across cocoa supply chains. Empowering women cocoa farmers has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people, some of whom are earning less than $2 a day."
- Judy Beals, Behind the Brands campaign manager
Although none of the Big 10 companies comes out of this scorecard particularly well - not a single one gets an overall 'Good' or 'Fair' score - Nestlé and Unilever emerge at the top of the list with a 'Some progress' overall score. General Mills, Kellogg's and Associated British Foods languish at the bottom with a 'Poor' score.
Associated British Foods hit back at the Oxfam report, saying that “the idea that ABF would use a ‘veil of secrecy’ in order to hide the ‘human cost’ of its supply chain is simply ridiculous” although they also pledged that their next corporate responsibility report this autumn “will confirm significant improvement in disclosure from the previous report”.
The Behind the Brands website does a great job of making visible the small number of huge companies that own so many of the everyday brands that most people are familiar with. Twinings for example is owned by Associated British Foods; Ben & Jerry's by Unilever; Cadbury by Mondelēz International; Quaker Oats by Pepsico.
There's an opportunity to go a step further with this tactic and start to examine the less well known giants of the food system: the traders and processers. The big four are Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Bunge, Louise Dreyfus and, one of the largest and most secretive companies in the world, Cargill.
An inspiring moment last week, as around 400 people from around Europe met in Krems, Austria to plan for a European-wide movement for "food sovereignty".
The final declaration of the Krems forum defines food sovereignty as "the right of peoples to democratically define their own food and agricultural systems without harming other people or the environment".
It is subtly and profoundly different from "food security" - the dominant paradigm for tackling the problem of hunger and food production, exemplified in the "green revolution" and fossil fuel intensive, large scale, industrial farming. While crop yields have increased, around a billion people are malnourished. The dominant food system is one that aims primarily to make money rather than feed people.
What is refreshing is that these moves to establish a European campaign for food sovereignty follow in the footsteps of the peasants and farmers of the global South. The movement for food sovereignty originated in the global South and is a bold attempt to reclaim the global narrative on food production.
An inspiring video from the global peasants movement La Via Campesina explains the history and power of this idea whose time has come:
Trading Visions has published a Chocolate Scorecard assessing the main chocolate companies active in the UK market on their progress towards a more sustainable chocolate supply chain.
We scrutinise Kraft/Cadbury, Mars and Nestle alongside smaller players. These three companies control 83% of the £3.7bn UK chocolate market, and 43% of the £62bn global market.
Despite having all committed to clear ethical plans they contribute just £20m in total to support cocoa producers, no more than 0.1% or 0.2% of their turnover on chocolate sales.
It is quite a promising picture compared to five or ten years ago, with most companies finally investing in cocoa farmers’ livelihoods and lots of interesting things happening. But it is also evident that the big players are global giants, and they could be doing so much more.
Trading Visions will be producing the scorecard report annually to monitor the chocolate industry’s performance across a number of ethical indicators, from Fairtrade and organic certification, through to child labour and the use of controversial palm oil. We would really welcome feedback on how it could be improved.
We want to start a constructive conversation to better help campaigners and consumers understand the reality behind the all the initiatives, commitments and marketing.
Starbucks recently switched the majority of its coffee to Fairtrade in the UK and Ireland. After years of over-marketing their fair trade credentials in their stores and on their marketing and educational materials, the reality is catching up with the rhetoric.
Mind you, the rhetoric has stepped up another gear too, with a massive multimillion-pound ad campaign launched to squeeze out as much ethical mileage as possible. Like the big budget television ad focused on Fairtrade and Ghana currently being run by Cadbury, the Starbucks campaign marks an interesting point where, in this country at least, Fairtrade has become not so much a burdensome extra cost for companies as a powerful marketing tool.
Trading Visions, in collaboration with the LSE Centre for Civil Society, held a well attended public discussion debate on Tuesday 24th February 2009. The topic was 'Who Owns Fairtrade?'
Some of the themes explored included:
• the contradictions of fair trade being a consumer brand as well as a movement;
• the fact that ownership can be claimed by such a wide range of stakeholders, from Fairtrade schools to Sainsbury;
• the contrast between the rigours of certification for small scale producers and the ease of involvement for large corporations;
• the ideal and reality of the fair trade partnership along the value chain.
You can watch and listen to the panellists and the discussion below.
Kate is co-founder of Tropical Wholefoods and has also worked in Uganda developing fair trade fruit drying. Tropical Wholefoods is based in a Soil Association certified factory in Sunderland, and produces snacks, foods and natural soaps.
Rajah is a tea plantation owner, his life’s work has been to convert the Fairtrade certified Makaibari Tea Estate in Darjeeling to organic permaculture, with tea bushes integrated into a wider subtropical forest ecosystem.
Katie is a sustainability consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. She was previously at Marks & Spencer, where she worked on the launch of Fairtrade cotton products and the move to Fairtrade coffee.
Dyborn Charlie Chibonga
Dyborn is CEO of the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi, which represents over 100,000 small scale farmers. He also serves on the board of the International Nut Cooperative which is selling Fairtrade nuts under its own UK brand, Liberation.
Pauline is an independent consultant focused on helping small-scale producers in Africa and Latin America profit from the international marketplace. She is a founder of two Fairtrade companies, Cafédirect and Divine Chocolate.
Questions and Discussion
The whole debate is available as a podcast.