4 July 2017

How the business model of a supermarket destroyed Fairtrade.

I am reading a book from 2004 called 'Shopped the shocking power of the British Supermarkets' by Food Journalist JoannaBlythman. It makes extremely interesting reading in light of the news that Sainsburys will be dropping the Fairtrade logo and creating its own!

Would you trust a supermarket to implement their own system of Fair Trade? They don't seem to understand the first thing about trading fairly in business, most of them act like playground bullies. In the book I am reading, Dave Hammond from Shetland Smokehouse is quoted when speaking about his own product that the supermarket then copied: "Consumers were getting a £1.00 product in £1.99 packaging. They lifted our product and packaging, benefited from all our research and development work. It cost us a five-figure sum and five jobs. It was pretty gut-wrenching. This is what supermarkets do. They use small companies as cheap new product development and look to us for innovation then use their own muscle to capitalise on it. They purport to extend consumer choice when in reality they are denying it, denying the public access to proper food."

Reading this, it becomes evident to me that #Sainsburys deciding to drop the #Fairtrade mark and deciding to do their own version instead, where standards are monitored internally, is the same modas operandi as usual.

That supermarkets and companies such as Nestlé were even allowed to get involved with Fairtrade and put the logo on their products always left a sour taste in my mouth but I went along with it because I listened to those that said the glass is half full, not half empty. It didn't matter, apparently, about the unethical parts of their operations, it was about taking baby steps and helping these #bigbusinesses see the worth in being #ethical. As a #Fairtrade #Campaigner and business owner, I championed those changes, created the first Fairtrade Business directory for my area, worked with a local theatre company to get a tour into local schools of a performance about the importance of Fairtrade. I worked on sourcing Fairtrade ingredients for our shop and right from the beginning every cup of coffee and tea was Fairtrade.

Yet, over the years the Fairtrade Mark has become watered down because they allowed it to be used by what I would class as unethical companies. Our coffee suplier EqualExchange recognised this, way before we did. They were one of the first companies involved with the Fair Trade story and just last year decided to take the Fairtrade logo off their products. I believe this is because they no longer wanted to associate themselves with a mark that could be used so easily by companies whose ethical pedigree was nowhere near 100%. These companies were blatently using the Fairtrade logo as a mark of convenience to cynically cash in on what they saw as the Fairtrade Cash Cow. How could it be anything but, when these same companies still carry out unfair practices in other parts of their operation? For a time the Fairtrade mark grew in strength and profile because they allowed their mark to be used by these companies and of course, they profited from the cash too, who can blame them? Money talks! However, the chink chink of the money is sounding louder to Sainsbury's than the voices of the farmers protesting their worries about losing the guaranteed Fairtrade minimum, the Fairtrade premium for the community and consumer confusion over what the Fairtrade mark really means.

When Equal Exchange first dropped the Fairtrade logo, I challenged them about it and explained how it was really important to me that we were selling coffee where the farmers and workers had been paid properly and treated fairly. We had quite a number of phone conversations and emails until I understood where they were coming from, where they felt that it was too easy for corporate bodies to use the mark as a badge of convenience and the true meaning of Fair Trade had been lost.
Equal Exchange made the right decision and I am happy that we listened to them and considered what they told us. It does seem to make a mockery of the Fair Trade ethos when a supermarket sells its own brand of coffee for a couple of pounds!
The supermarkets have made a mess of our farming communities here in Britain and the quality of the 'fresh' produce we have access to on the supermarket shelves and slowly and steadily, they have eroded the intrinsic value of the Fairtrade logo.

It could have been a happy ending where supermarkets getting involved in Fairtrade could have inspired them to analyse their whole trading systems. The Fairtrade Association did a great thing in giving them that major opportunity. Unfortunately, like an unrehabilitated wicked old witch, the supermarkets have once again taken something that was once so good for people and turned it into something that's only good for profit!
Post a Comment