THE chief executive of Traidcraft plc, the company that introduced fairtrade marketing to the UK, has appealed to church leaders, including archbishops, to pledge their support to save the company.
The company has announced that, unless a solution can be found in the next month, it will cease trading by the end of 2018. The board has blamed its financial difficulties on the fall in the pound after the Brexit referendum, and austerity, as well as on a disappointing relaunch of its online shop.
Traidcraft, the pioneer Fairtrade scheme, was founded by six people in Newcastle in 1979. It sold fairtrade coffee, sugar, and chocolate as well as rugs and baskets handmade by small-scale producers in developing countries. They started selling at church stalls and at markets, a model it has continued to this day.
Over the past 39 years, Fairtrade and ethical shopping have gone mainstream, along with many other companies.
Its chief executive, Robin Roth, who was brought in to run the company two years ago, said that, while other companies had “taken the idea and run with it and make a lot of money from it”, Traidcraft had stayed true to its Christian principles.
He appealed to Archbishops and bishops in the Church of England to pledge their support for Traidcraft and help turn the company round. Mr Roth was previously chief executive of Europe’s largest Fairtrade company, GEPA, which is owned by the Roman Catholic and Protestant Church in Germany — a model that, he suggested, could work for Traidcraft in the UK.
“We need the Archbishops to say that trade justice is part of the mission of the gospel, and here is an organisation that is raised on Christian principles that we can support — not out of charity, but because it is the right thing to do.”
He said that the company had a month to put a business plan together to save the company, which has 68 employees and supports hundreds of small producers in the developing world. Many of these producers would go out of business if Traidcraft folded, he said, though some of the largest co-operatives, which had thrived because of Traidcraft, could continue.
“It is not over yet: there is a period of consultation, and there is a huge appetite from our supporters for us to continue. We have a lot of individuals fighting for our cause in churches, in schools, and we are very grateful to them, but the Church as a whole is still buying coffee and tea from discount supermarkets, and knowing that we are not even supported by fellow Christians is disheartening.
“I call on congregations to rally round and source tea and coffee and cleaning materials from Traidcraft rather than discount stores. If we know the churches of Great Britain supported an organisation that has Christian values, it would form part of our business plan going forward.”
An email address has been set up for supporters to send in their ideas about the company’s future (email@example.com): more than a thousand emails had been received, Mr Roth said.
Traidcraft’s charity arm, Traidcraft Exchange, is a separate organisation that is not threatened with collapse. It works with producers to improve supply chains and companies in the UK for justice in international trade.