Ffion Storer Jones gives a first hand account of why Fairtrade matters and calls for it to be protected
From my farm to hers was a trip of around 6000 miles. I grew up on a small farm in the hills of Montgomeryshire; Dorothy is a smallholder tea farmer in western Kenya. We met last year when I travelled to East Africa to visit people producing Fairtrade tea, coffee, gold and flowers.
Life can be tough for women in rural Kenya, where a lack of land rights and gender stereotypes work against them, but Dorothy had an infectious laugh and a sense of optimism. Through the support of Fairtrade she has been able to buy some land for the first time, providing a secure future for herself and her family.
Fairtrade offers an opportunity for Dorothy to earn a guaranteed fair price for her tea, but that’s not all. Fairtrade certification also helps small farmers gain access to international markets, get training and support on subjects like gender equality and good farming practices. Fairtrade also provides an extra premium – around 40p for a kilo of tea, which she, and members of her co-operative choose how to invest to improve their businesses and communities.
Since its inception 25 years ago, Fairtrade has become the gold standard for ethical trading, and is now the world’s most trusted and best-known food certification scheme. The people of Wales have played a big part in this, as the world’s first Fair Trade Nation – where government, schools, businesses, places of worship, towns and universities champion Fairtrade. Worldwide, Fairtrade is now a $2bn a year global operation, and here in the UK where it is most popular, nearly 80% of people are said to recognise the Fairtrade mark.
Visiting Fairtrade farmers and workers in East Africa, I was able to speak with those most affected by consumer choices, and see how the Fairtrade mark really makes a difference. In Kenya I chatted to mothers who have job security because of childcare paid for with Fairtrade premium, visited villages that have a clean water supply and farmers who can access newer and cleaner technologies to improve the sustainability and efficiency of their farms.
That’s why I was disappointed to hear the news that Sainsbury’s is turning its back on Fairtrade tea. Sainsbury’s is the world’s largest supplier of Fairtrade products, and has made many pioneering changes, including being the first supermarket to switch all of its bananas to Fairtrade.
The Fairtrade label on Sainsbury’s own brand gold and red label tea, rooibos and green tea has started to disappear already, and in place of the globally renowned Fairtrade mark, a logo to recognise their own ‘fairly traded’ system. The company says it’s a pilot scheme, but there is widespread concern that it will gradually be rolled out into other lines, such as coffee and bananas.
To echo the questions of more than 200,000 tea farmers and workers in Africa; ‘Why change a system that has worked well for both farmers and supermarkets for almost 25 years?” Fairtrade was set up to ensure a balance of power between producers and companies. Sainsbury’s announcement threatens to tip the balance back to the powerful retailers and disempower farmers.
Pivotal to the success and huge public support of Fairtrade is that guarantee that a Fairtrade premium is paid to farmers, over and above the price of their produce. Fairtrade puts power in the hands of producers, allowing them to choose for themselves how to invest in their families, farms and communities. One of the greatest points of concern is the change in how the premium will be allocated. The Sainsbury’s system will take decision-making away from communities in Africa to be replaced with a grant-based system based in London. This is a step backwards.
With growing demand from consumers, governments and international organisations for sustainable food production, it is great to see large businesses putting their supply chains under the spotlight and transforming the way they do business. Fairtrade has the farmer at the core of its operations, and my greatest fear in this new move from Sainsbury’s is that focus will be lost. Thousands of farmers with whom Sainsbury’s have worked with for many years have been left vulnerable. They have told Sainsbury’s loud and clear; ‘your new model will bring about disempowerment’.
Taking away the Fairtrade mark from Sainsbury’s own brand tea line risks damaging the trusted assurance customers have in being able to choose products that guarantee farmers a fair deal. With an increasingly complex array of ethical food labelling systems, one of my biggest questions to Sainsbury’s, is why complicate things further? Fairtrade has allowed supermarkets to foster long term relationships with farmers over the years, providing long-term financial security and the ability to invest in business and community.
Fairtrade works. And if it isn’t broke, why try and fix it?
For more information and to sign the petition to ask Sainsbury’s not to ditch Fairtrade tea here.
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