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Sainsbury’s under fire for rival ‘fairtrade’ scheme

07 July 2017


Fairly-picked: a tea- planter picks leaves in a plantation in Kandy, Sri Lanks, in 2013

Fairly-picked: a tea- planter picks leaves in a plantation in Kandy, Sri Lanks, in 2013

CHURCHES, charities, and fairtrade groups have responded with concern to the announce­ment that the Sainsbury’s supermarket chain is to join Tesco in removing some of its pro­ducts from the Fairtrade Foundation’s certi­fica­tion scheme.

Sainsbury’s Gold Label and Red Label teas will no longer carry the official Fairtrade logo (right); but will be described instead as “fairly traded”. They will no longer be subject to the Fairtrade Foundation’s rules, which re­­quire a fair price to be paid to growers and a Social Premium to help economic develop­ment in the area of origin of the products.

In making its announcement, Sainsbury’s said that its self-certified fairtrade scheme would create “a new way of working that will empower tea farmers in Malawi, Kenya and Rwanda to strengthen their businesses and communities as they tackle . . . ever growing challenges” of “global warming, extreme weather and volatile prices”.

The company said that, under the new scheme, its producers “can make a better life for themselves and their families”.

But the move has been widely condemned. The Fairtrade Foundation has confirmed that it will not work in partnership with Sains­bury’s on the new pilot — which could be rolled out from tea to other products in the coming weeks and months — because of “fun­damental concerns that it falls below the core principles of Fairtrade and particularly be­­cause farming groups in Africa felt that it would take control away from them”.

The Fairtrade Foundation’s chief executive, Michael Gidney, said: “Fairtrade and Sains­bury’s have worked together for many years and we are rightfully proud of what we achieved for some of the world’s most mar­ginalised farmer. Whilst we welcome and expect companies to work towards improving social, economic and environmental out­comes within their supply chains, we don’t believe the execution of this current model will, on balance, deliver positive changes for tea farmers. Therefore, at this stage we are unable to partner with the Sainsbury’s Foun­da­tion as it does not yet meet our core prin­ciples, particularly in the area of producer empowerment.”

The sentiment was echoed by a group of African tea producers, who in an open letter to Sainsbury’s said: “We told Sainsbury’s loud and clear: your model will bring about disempowerment. We are extremely concerned about the power and control that Sains­bury’s seeks to exert over us.”

Divine Chocolate, a Fairtrade company owned by cocoa farmers, expressed concern. The company’s chief executive, Sophi Tranchwell, criticised the removal of the Social Premium, which she said was “key to the success of, and support for, Fairtrade”.

She said that “the farmers themselves decide how to invest that Premium to improve their lives, farms and communities. Sainsbury’s proposed programme removes that guaranteed Premium, and with that, the power farmers have been given to make their own decisions about their future.”

David Marshall, founder of the Meaningful Chocolate Company, which produces the Real Easter Eggs, shared the concern. He said: “When Cad­bury announced they were drop­ping the Fairtrade standard last year, many suspected that it would not be long before other manu­fac­turers looking to cut costs follow their lead.

”For decades, Churches fought to make sure that the Fairtrade mark, as the gold ethical standard, appeared on everyday goods. It is time for dioceses to consider what an appro­priate response to the dropping of Fairtrade might be.”

A spokesman for Christian Aid called on consumers to continue to seek out products that bear the Fairtrade mark. “Sainsbury’s scheme risks undermining all that has been achieved over the last 25 years,” the spokes­man said. “The standards are unclear, and farmers and producers may no longer be able to decide themselves directly how the money raised is spent to help their communities.”

On Tuesday of last week, the Meth­odist Conference, meeting in Birmingham, passed a motion expres­sing its “deep concern” at the move, and at the possibility that other super­markets might follow suit.

Sainsbury’s was asked to respond to the concerns expressed by chari­ties and church groups, but did not do so.

Paul Vallely

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