Fairtrade Product Sales Rise Again

UK sales of Fairtrade products increased by 7% in 2017 as consumers shrugged off the controversy that erupted last summer when Sainsbury’s said it was planning to launch its own Fairly Traded scheme for tea. Sales rose 2.5% in volume last year, helped by Co-op and Waitrose increasing their Fairtrade ranges.

New research was published at the beginning of Fairtrade Fortnight, backing up TNS research for the Fairtrade Foundation, showing public support for Fairtrade at “an all-time high”, the foundation said. The survey shows that 93% of UK adults are aware of Fairtrade, while 83% of people trust the Fairtrade mark, which guarantees a minimum price to farmers and additional payments for use on social projects such as schools or clean water provision.

“Last year in the UK more people than ever before got behind Fairtrade and, together with many well-known businesses, indicated they want more fair trade and less exploitation in their goods,” said Mike Gidney, CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation.

The foundation marked the start of Fairtrade Fortnight with a stunt at the Millennium footbridge, which spans the river in the heart of the City of London, erecting a giant double doorway opening onto a scene from a banana farm. Celebrities, including chef Tess Ward, joined Ugandan banana farmer Ketra Kyosiimire to give out Fairtrade bananas to passers-by hurrying to work amid snow flurries.

The Fairtrade Foundation said it wanted to call attention to the plight of tens of thousands of banana farmers in Latin America, the Caribbean, South-East Asia and West Africa.

“The past 15 years have seen a 40% fall in the typical UK retail price of loose bananas while costs of production have doubled in some regions,” the foundation said. “Together, these factors have a human cost, meaning workers on non-Fairtrade plantations often have to contend with basic housing, poor working conditions and a lack of job security and continue to be undermined by late cancellations and delayed payments from unscrupulous buyers.”

It called on Commonwealth leaders, who will be meeting in London in April, to commit to a five-point plan to “put fairness at the heart of their trade plans” by:

• Committing to living incomes
• Supporting women’s economic empowerment
• Legislating to end modern slavery
• Developing trade policies guided by the Sustainable Development Goals
• Investing in producers trying to achieve higher ethical standards

The Fairtrade Foundation said that it saw continuing support from business during 2017, including a commitment by the Co-op to switch all the cocoa it uses to Fairtrade and Waitrose’s pledge to making 100% of its own-label tea Fairtrade.

Last summer’s move by Sainsbury, the UK’s biggest Fairtrade retailer, to set up its own Fairly Traded brand for tea earned widespread condemnation from NGOs, consumers and politicians, and led to questions being raised in Parliament. In an interview with Ethical Corporation last year, David Nieberg, head of media relations at Sainsbury’s, explained the supermarket’s move. “Fairtrade is 25 years old. The world has moved on but Fairtrade is not moving with the times. It is not bringing as much benefit to farmers as it could. After 25 years of Fairtrade, still 10% of children are malnourished.”

Sainsbury’s is not alone. Confectionery giant Mondelez decided to pull the Fairtrade mark off its brands in favour of its Cocoa Life scheme in 2016, though it has retained the partnership with the Fairtrade Foundation. While some commentators said companies were dropping Fairtrade to cut costs, big brands, including Mars and Mondelez, denied cost was a factor. They expressed fears about the resilience of their supply chains, and said this has changed the nature of what they need from certification bodies such as Fairtrade.

Fairtrade said this week that it is exploring new ways of working with business and has undertaken a supply chain mapping and transparency pilot, funded by the Department for International Development. “Through this work Fairtrade is well placed to play an influential role as a partner to businesses looking to tackle human rights abuses and modern slavery risks in their supply chains.”

The merits of third party sustainability standards (such as organic and fairtrade) and in-house schemes (such as Cocoa Life and Harmony of Mondelez Foods) are frequently debated at the Sustainable Foods Summit. The next European edition of this executive summit will be hosted in Amsterdam on 7-8th June, Asia-Pacific edition in Singapore on 4-5th September, Latin America in São Paulo on 29-30th November, whilst the North American edition will take place in San Francisco on 16-17 January 2019. More details are on the website

Related Insights: Sustainable Sourcing: Recent Developments and Outlook

Source: Ethical Corporation / Ecovia Intelligence (14/03)