9th March 2011

The innovators of Fairtrade

If you've walked past an Oxfam shop this Fairtrade Fortnight you might have noticed a rather fetching poster in the window showcasing the fact that they sell various "Fairtrade masterpieces".


The poster features products from Liberation Nuts, Traidcraft, Tropical Wholefoods, Divine Chocolate and Cafédirect - and Oxfam have also produced a little recipe leaflet to use with them.

28th February 2011

Fairtrade sales top £1bn for the first time

Fairtrade sales in the UK have soared once again, increasing 40 per cent from £836m in 2009 to £1.17bn in 2010.

Chocolate - often a focus of public concern and of campaigns on trade and child labour - is the leading Fairtrade product by value, with sales more than quadrupling in 2010 to an estimated retail value of £342m.

5th November 2010

What is it with the IEA and Fairtrade?

Yesterday's report and press release from the free market think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), is not the first time they have made anti-Fairtrade noises.

Over several years they have criticised Fairtrade on the basis of its claims and seem to view the large proportion of the population who 'get' Fairtrade as deluded.

Yet, they still fail to understand quite what Fairtrade is. It seems that the IEA views Fairtrade as a type of charity, giving a little bit more money here and there to poor people, while the giver needs to be assured at every step that the money is spent wisely.

For anyone who has met Fairtrade producers, we know it is about so much more than just the money. It's about transforming the trading relationship between consumers and producers.

One of the latest criticisms levelled at Fairtrade by the IEA is that "Fairtrade products can squeeze out from the market other socially labelled products". Surely a bizarre statement from a free market think tank! If Fairtrade products are proving more popular with consumers in our 'free' market in the UK then surely this is what is supposed to happen. No-one is forcing people to buy Fairtrade.

Unfortunately the IEA remain short of solutions for poverty in developing countries. While repeating the manta that free trade is the answer, not Fairtrade (aka charity in their eyes), they fail to acknowledge that the market is anything but free when poorer countries try to trade with us.

When the IEA starts a more vocal campaign to lift trade barriers which harm the poorest, I'll start to take them more seriously.

14th October 2010

Fairtrade supporters conference 2010

I attended an energetic and enjoyable Fairtrade supporters conference put on by the Fairtrade Foundation on Saturday.

It felt to me like it had really built on the success of last year's conference, with more reflection and honesty about difficult issues, and lots of useful information being shared.

Most of all, it's great to have so many of the brilliant campaigners from around the Fairtrade movement gathered together in one place.

I enjoyed the contrast of watching Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, and Andrew Ethuru, a Kenyan producer director of Cafédirect, speak one after the other in the plenary session.

Caroline talks very quickly, her words tumbling out passionately and eloquently, as she drew our attention to the big picture, the need to shift from a world based on relentless economic growth, to one that increases human well being.

She highlighted the fact that although DFID's overall budget isn't being cut, big changes are being made, for example big cuts in funding for development awareness, and for policy work, in other words less focus on tackling underlying causes.

Andrew Ethuru on the other hand spoke with a more measured pace, taking his time, and building up gradually to an impassioned conclusion. Andrew is chairman of the Michimikuru tea co-operative's Fairtrade Premium committee in Kenya, their tea goes into Cafédirect's 'Everyday Tea' range.

Andrew spoke of the challenge now for Michimukuru, which is that even as overall sales of Fairtrade tea are growing, Michimikuru’s Fairtrade sales are declining. His warning was that market share for small producers is shrinking as multinationals with big tea estates move into mass market Fairtrade tea.

"The question we have to ask ourselves is," he said, "has Fairtrade been hijacked, because there is big money there?"

He asserted that at the heart of Fairtrade should be small producers, small farms, and labour-intensive high-quality production.

13th October 2010

Fairtrade cocoa prices are to rise

Good news for Fairtrade cocoa farmers.

FLO (Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International), the standards setting body for the Fairtrade Mark, have announced new, higher prices for Fairtrade cocoa, which will kick in on 1st January 2011.

The Fairtrade minimum price for cocoa will increase from $1,600 a tonne to $2,000 a tonne. The Fairtrade premium will increase from $150 a tonne to $200 a tonne.

The new Fairtrade minimum price is not immediately relevant, as cocoa prices are well above it, currently at around $2,800 a tonne, although prices are starting to fall again as experts predict an end to the production deficits of recent years.

But FLO expects cocoa farmer organisations to reap at least $10m in Fairtrade premium payments in 2011.

The new standards for cocoa prices are long overdue. The last review took place thirteen years ago. It is a fairly predictable and conservative increase though, roughly corresponding to inflation. $1,600 in 1997 would be worth $2,176 now.

18th December 2009

Is Fairtrade selling itself too cheap?

Last week saw years of patient courtship pay off for the Fairtrade Foundation, as it secured Fairtrade status for the nation’s favourite “chocolate biscuit bar”, Kit Kat. The cocoa will come from co-operatives in Côte d’Ivoire, and the sugar from farmers in Belize.

Fairtrade Kit Kat image

Appropriately enough, the news broke on the same day as cocoa prices reached one of their recent peaks: $3,378 per tonne on the New York futures market, the highest level since 1985. Prices are said to have been boosted by speculation about dwindling supplies from Côte d’Ivoire.

The news has been greeted with a good deal of unease among campaigners and activists. Though Kit Kat was originally launched in 1935 by Rowntree and is something of a British institution, Rowntree was of course taken over by Nestlé in 1988, just as Cadbury is looking likely to be swallowed up before too long. And Nestlé has the dubious distinction of being one of the world’s most notoriously unethical companies.

10th October 2009

Fairtrade supporters conference

It was the Fairtrade Supporters Conference in London today, one of the best Fairtrade Foundation conferences I've attended.

I would have liked to have seen more reflection about the future of Fairtrade campaigning in the UK. This sort of conference could be the space for genuine consultation and strategic debate about the direction of the Fairtrade movement. As it is, they are always rather top-down in approach and tend to take the campaigners for granted, treating them as a resource to be deployed rather than as co-creators in a shared endeavour.

Nevertheless, the conference still did a great job making us feel part of a campaigning community, stoking up enthusiasm and sharing useful information. It was good to hear about DFID's £12m of new investment in Fairtrade, aiming to bring another million producers into the system. Harriet Lamb described how costly and time consuming it can be to bring new producers or commodities into the system, using the example of Zaytoun olive oil from Palestine which took over five years to certify Fairtrade. For all the success of Fairtrade, it still requires substantial external investments to scale up and deepen its impact.

The final panel discussion of the day - "what role does fairness play in sustainable consumption" - was particularly interesting.

29th September 2009

Starbucks: the marketing of ethics

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.

17th August 2009

Fairtrade Cadbury: Altruism or Self-interest?

As reported widely over the past few weeks, Fairtrade Dairy Milk chocolate bars are at long last rolling off the production line at Cadbury’s Bournville factory. This is a momentous, if long overdue, event for the fair trade movement, increasing all UK Fairtrade sales by 25% in one swoop and making the Fairtrade Mark visible in many more retail outlets.

The Fairtrade certification of Dairy Milk is a massive piece of ‘choice editing’, in a similar way to when Sainsbury switched all its bananas to Fairtrade. Usually ethical consumers have to make an active choice when buying Fairtrade products. When switching completely to Fairtrade bananas, Sainsbury addressed the fact that most people won’t actively seek out products that address issues such as sustainability and human exploitation, but will buy them when they are their only choice and they are right under their nose. The fact that Cadbury has followed suit by converting the most popular chocolate bar in Britain to Fairtrade, so placing Fairtrade in every newsagent and supermarket in Britain at no extra cost to the consumer, is a welcome development.

The development does also mark a big shift in the balance of power within the fair trade movement, raising all the big questions that arise when multinational companies adopt the Fairtrade Mark. So while it is an excellent thing, we need to be wary and thoughtful about the long term impact, and in particular ensure that the Fairtrade mission is not compromised or weakened in any way.

4th May 2009

Q&A on Mars and Cadbury

The last two months have seen two of the biggest chocolate industry players announce major ethical certification initiatives.

Cadbury's Dairy Milk bar will be Fairtrade certified in the UK and Ireland by the end of 2009, with plans to convert more of their range, and Mars are working with Rainforest Alliance to sustainably source all their cocoa by 2020, starting with Rainforest Alliance certification for the Galaxy bar in 2010.

To put these announcements in context and explore their significance, we put some questions to Mars and Cadbury, and to three external commentators...