European consumer co-operatives and Fair Trade: an effective poverty fighting alliance

European consumer co-operatives have played a major role in mainstreaming Fair Trade products in the retail market. Together, the co-operative and Fair Trade movements are a powerful force...

European consumer co-operatives and the Fair Trade movement have long enjoyed a successful and mutually beneficial partnership. Thanks to this collaboration, consumer co-operatives, retailers that are active primarily in the food sector, can offer a variety of high-quality, sustainably sourced products to customers and Fair Trade producers are able to benefit from just compensation and visibility in the global marketplace.

Fair Trade shares many values with the co-operative movement, making them two natural allies. In fact, small farmer co-operatives represent 75% of all Fair Trade producer organisations. Being ethics-based businesses, consumer co-operatives are interested in contributing to the growth of co-operatives around the world, with “co-operation among co-operatives” being one of the seven principles to which all co-operatives adhere.

The co-operative principle of “education, training and information” also distinguishes co-operatives from other retailers. Consumer co-operatives train staff about Fair Trade to ensure the products’ successful uptake into their stores and educate members and consumers to make better informed purchasing decisions.

Co-operative retailers encourage support for Fair Trade, which boosts local economies and helps small farmers and producers escape the grip of poverty. The Co-operative Group and Coop Italy are two examples of the European consumer co-operative commitment to Fair Trade. The Co-operative Group recently announced its 100% switch to Fair Trade bananas. This new sourcing policy is aligned with an objective in The Co-operative Group’s Ethical Plan to use Fair Trade-labelled products whenever possible. The co-operative hopes to be 90% towards this target by 2013.

Another demonstration of their commitment to Fair Trade is found in the example of Coobana, a co-operative of banana workers in Panama. The Co-operative Group helped them earn Fair Trade certification and will contribute £ 260,000 over a three-year period to fund clean water, sanitation, fuel-efficient stoves and further co-operative development.

Embracing an innovative approach to the promotion of Fair Trade, Coop Italy recently teamed up with UK fashion designer Katharine Hamnett to create a collection of t-shirts, mini dresses, leggings and shorts made out of Fair Trade cotton. The Vesto Solidal collection celebrates the 2012 International Year of Co-operatives with the slogan “Together it is possible”. The collection is available online at the Vesto Solidal website or in Coop Italy hypermarkets.

Further empowered by the 2012 United Nations International Year of Co-operatives, European consumer cooperatives are using 2012 as the occasion to showcase their commitment to Fair Trade and other sources of sustainable production, thereby providing a concrete response to how co-operatives are building a better Europe.

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