In mid-November, a joint press release declared a new “global partnership” between Fairtrade and Cadbury, the brand owned by global snack company Mondelēz International.
They announced that Cadbury Dairy Milk will no longer be Fairtrade certified. Instead, all Cadbury products will be brought under Mondelēz International’s in-house sustainability programme, ‘Cocoa Life’. The Fairtrade logo will be replaced with the Cocoa Life logo, and Fairtrade will become an implementing partner for Cocoa Life, with this partnership being indicated on the back of pack.
It has been seven years since Cadbury Dairy Milk became Fairtrade certified in the UK. It was a pivotal moment – perhaps the pivotal moment – in the ‘mainstreaming’ of Fairtrade in this country. At a stroke, 350 million chocolate bars a year were certified, bringing the Fairtrade Mark into every corner shop in the country.
Fairtrade campaigners celebrated and the future looked promising, with Cadbury chief executive Todd Stitzer saying that he planned to convert their other chocolate brands to Fairtrade "as soon as we can do it". It felt like perhaps Cadbury had re-engaged with its progressive Quaker roots, bringing a new 21st century ethics into the heart of its business model.
A year later, the company was the subject of a hostile and controversial takeover by US multinational Kraft, though not before they had converted the Green & Blacks range owned by Cadbury to Fairtrade. Although Kraft promised to honour Cadbury's Fairtrade commitments, it was clear that there would be no further expansion of Fairtrade certification as had previously been hoped. In 2012, Kraft split into two companies, and Cadbury became a brand owned by a new multinational food company called Mondelēz International.
The new joint announcement from Cadbury and Fairtrade unsurprisingly describes the new deal in glowing terms as a “ground-breaking commitment” and an “evolution of our partnership”. But for Fairtrade campaigners, it is mixed news at best.
It is plain that a key campaigning win from previous years has been reversed.
At the same time, it represents a victory of sorts. Fairtrade has catalysed concern across the chocolate industry for the sustainability of cocoa production and companies like Mondelēz have responded with meaningful initiatives to address the problems faced by small scale farmers.
“The evolution of our partnership with Cadbury and Cocoa Life is an exciting development as it embeds Fairtrade, our values, principles and unique relationships with farmer networks into the whole programme. In doing so, together we can increase the scale and impact of Cocoa Life, towards a common goal – one in which cocoa farmers, their organisations and communities are empowered, can invest in their own futures, and go from just surviving, to thriving.”
- Michael Gidney, Chief Executive at the Fairtrade Foundation
So what does the detail of the deal look like?
The press release states that Cocoa Life will deliver “value per farmer at least equivalent to that previously delivered by Fairtrade premiums”. This is good to hear. However, there are other elements of the Fairtrade model that seem to be missing from Cocoa Life. Two important ones are a strong farmer voice and robust verification.
First, a strong farmer voice. In Fairtrade, there is a key capacity building requirement for farmers to organise into democratic co-operatives. Farmers’ organisations decide themselves how they will spend the Fairtrade Premium. And farmers are part of the governance structure of the international Fairtrade system that sets the minimum price and premium for cocoa. In Cocoa Life, it does not appear that there is any equivalent governance role for farmers.
Second, the question of verification. Fairtrade is to be a partner in Cocoa Life, but this is not the third-party verification system represented by the Fairtrade Mark. It is not entirely clear what partnership means in this context. How are consumers to know that this is a robust corporate sustainability programme rather than ‘fairwash’?
Stepping back, what does this mean more broadly?
The shift from third-party Fairtrade certification to ‘own brand’ corporate sustainability programmes has been foreshadowed for some time.
Even in the original Cadbury Dairy Milk announcement in 2009, Fairtrade was described as “an extension” of Cadbury’s own ‘Cocoa Partnership’ programme launched the year before. The Cocoa Partnership pledged to invest £45m over ten years to “secure the future of cocoa farming in Ghana, India, Indonesia and the Caribbean”.
Similarly, when Nestlé announced that Kit Kat would go Fairtrade in 2009, the Fairtrade commitment was nested within their ‘Cocoa Plan’, a ten-year £65m investment programme “to increase our suppliers’ profitability, secure high-quality cocoa for our business, and address supply chain issues”.
In 2012, Mondelēz International repackaged the Cocoa Partnership into Cocoa Life, now a $400m investment over ten years to “improve the livelihoods and living conditions of 200,000 cocoa farmers”. Then in 2015, Mondelēz International entered into a partnership with FLO-CERT, the global inspection and certification body for Fairtrade, to provide third party verification services for Cocoa Life. As Mondelez stated in their press release at the time, their ultimate goal was to certify all the company's cocoa supply “mainly via Cocoa Life”.
In the UK, a similar partnership deal was struck between Waitrose and the Fairtrade Foundation in 2015. Again, rather than being about Waitrose signing up to any new Fairtrade products, the agreement was for the Fairtrade Foundation to support Waitrose in verifying the work of its in-house sustainability programme, the ‘Waitrose Foundation’.
Fairtrade has always worked in partnerships, but its partners seem to be increasingly calling the shots. Companies are designing their own sustainability programmes, often with their own product pack logos, rather than signing up to the Fairtrade Mark.
Is this a cause for concern? Perhaps not. Fairtrade has focused attention on the injustices suffered by small scale farmers and the concomitant risks to supply chains: big corporates have admitted there is a problem and reshaped their business priorities to try and solve it.
Yet the goals that have driven both sides are subtly different. The goal of ‘certification’ for big companies isn’t that envisaged by the founders of Fairtrade, to change the way trade is done. It is to increase the productivity of farming, with increasing farmer incomes theoretically following from this.
Big corporations have not only embraced Fairtrade, they have changed it. Bit by bit, it has moved away from the overriding goal of changing the terms of trade and has become a project to help farmers increase productivity, quality and sustainability. What had begun as trade justice has gradually become corporate sustainability.
It is telling that in the 2015 joint press release put out by Fairtrade and Mars when the new Fairtrade Sourcing Program in cocoa was extended to Mars Bars, it was announced that farmer cooperatives would be investing their Fairtrade Premiums “in a full productivity package, including training, fertilisers and improved high yielding and disease resistant crops, enabling Fairtrade farmers to dramatically increase their yields and incomes helping to enhance local livelihoods”.
Normally, the point of the Fairtrade Premium is that farmers decide how it will be spent, not the companies that buy their cocoa!
What does this shift mean for Fairtrade campaigners?
In the UK, a vibrant local campaigner base has driven consumer demand and underpinned the ecology of trust around Fairtrade over the last fifteen years.
It has benefited from a clear proposition: 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.
The rise of alternative certification systems such as Rainforest Alliance, Fair for Life and Utz has muddied the waters, but Fairtrade remained distinctive, arguably the gold standard of ethical certification marks. Further challenge to the clarity of this campaigning proposition came from within Fairtrade itself, with the introduction of single ingredient certification, the Fairtrade Sourcing Programs, two years ago. These were designed to give big companies a more flexible range of options for engaging with the Fairtrade system. The arrival of ‘own brand certification’ systems like Cocoa Life brings a further level of confusion to the scene.
The campaigning proposition is becoming less clear and we are seeing the emergence of different levels and different kinds of ‘Fairtrade’. Perhaps the fire of trade justice at the heart of the movement is waning.
Yet there is also much to celebrate. Most companies are now having to pay at least lip service to the idea that ethical considerations should be a core concern for the business. In the chocolate industry nearly every major player has launched some sort of large scale sustainable sourcing initiative. Fairtrade has been central to that shift.
The danger now if the campaigning movement around Fairtrade begins to dissipate is that the public pressure for companies to further improve will no longer be there. For growth and development to continue, there needs to be scrutiny and accountability. Where will this come from?
What next for campaigners?
With all campaigning, we act from the heart, not really knowing objectively which actions, which petitions, which conversations were the ones that actually led to meaningful change. Some may wish to move on to new issues that fit with their values.
An important focus for anyone concerned about trade justice is to direct attention to the massive opportunities and risks arising from Brexit and the renegotiation of Britain’s trade agreements with the rest of the world over the next few years. In many ways, trade is back on the agenda in a way that it hasn’t been for years and the stakes are high.
Others may consider pulling back and refocusing on the 100% Fairtrade core offering, which is still there. As Traidcraft recently stated in response to the Cadbury announcement: “Fair trade is written into our DNA”. The farmer-owned companies, Cafedirect, Divine Chocolate and Liberation Nuts, are still innovating. There is still a vibrant alternative high street seeking to do trade differently and it needs our support.
The great problem of our era is corporate power. Big companies continue to grow ever larger, increasing their influence over politics and society, and presiding over escalating inequality. The only sure way that more of the value and power in supply chains is going to reach farmers and workers is if companies radically rethink their business models.