Motion 10 at the Co-op Group’s AGM welcomed the support for Fairtrade being demonstrated by the organisation, but called on it to “not only to remain committed to its Fairtrade values but also to provide an assurance of stability to its Fairtrade suppliers and to explore additional ways of supporting them”. The motion was passed with 98.24% votes.
This issue is of particular concern as, following Brexit, farmers in developing countries are facing new uncertainties around future tariffs and their access to the UK market.
The Co-op Group is a recognised leader in Fairtrade, and its retail sales of Fairtrade products (value) increased by 18.4% in 2016 against a national market growth of 7.6%.
During the AGM, the Group reconfirmed its commitment to Fairtrade producers, saying that its focus would remain on “the seven core Fairtrade categories where we can make the biggest difference”. The retailer offers 100% Fairtrade own brand ranges of tea, coffee, bagged sugar, bananas, roses and chocolate bars and maintains its position as the world’s largest seller of Fairtrade wine.
This year the Group also announced that all cocoa within its Co-op own brand products will be Fairtrade, not just for chocolate bars. The next stage is to extend this 100% Fairtrade ingredient approach to bananas, tea and coffee.
Last year’s AGM signed off on the production of a Fairtrade strategy on the areas where the Group can make the biggest difference. At an earlier fringe meeting, Brad Hill, Fairtrade strategy manager at the Group, told delegates how they approached the strategy. “We took an objective look at what we do and where there are gaps where we can help Fairtrade producers. We identified a number of areas where we can do more.”
This lead to the Group’s Cocoa for Change report, which made a commitment that 100% of the cocoa it buys for its all of its own brand products will be Fairtrade. It switched its entire own-brand chocolate bar range to Fairtrade in 2002, but the new commitment means that over 200 Co-op products will use Fairtrade cocoa, from the chocolate chips in its cookies to the cocoa used in cooking sauces – and will increase Fairtrade cocoa purchases five-fold.
“When looking objectively at what we do, said Mr Hill, “the Co-op has always talked about chocolate, whereas the Fairtrade Foundation talks about cocoa; and when the Co-op talks about roses, the Foundation talks about flowers. So taking us to the next level, we made a commitment to switch 100% in all of our use of cocoa.”
In the Cocoa for Change report, the Group highlighted that although its commitment is significant, there is still a big challenge ahead. The international price of cocoa beans is falling and growing cocoa is hard – but Fairtrade is helping to make it more sustainable.
Mr Hill added: “Our Fairtrade strategy is all about getting closer to our producers. We don’t just put a Fairtrade stamp on our product, we want to do more than that. It’s about developing relationships with our suppliers, so we can get a real knowledge as to where our products are coming from. We also reassure producers in the supply chain that we’re with them and we’re not going to abandon them.”
During the event, Jon Walker, cocoa product manager at the Fairtrade Foundation, said his organisation cannot provide all of the solutions, so it needs partners like the Co-op Group. “Without the Co-op, this year-long programme towards this commitment would not have happened. We needed a serious partner who is committed to this.”