In the face of criticism of Fairtrade certification, panellists at the Co-operating for a Fairer World conference defended the brand. But, they admitted, the expanding market is challenging its systems.
Fairtrade certification came under fire last month when Bill Keeling, managing director of chocolatier Prestat, said the label conned consumers into feeling better, when some Fairtrade bars contain no Fairtrade cocoa at all.
In Britain, Cadbury, Nestle and Mars have all certified just one of their product lines under the ‘mass balance’ rule, which allows a manufacturer who buys, for example, 10 per cent of its beans from Fairtrade farms to label a similar percentage of its products as Fairtrade.
Paul Chandler, chief executive of Traidcraft, was concerned about negative publicity’s effect on the Fairtrade brand.
‘We need a mixed economy,’ he said. ‘We want big companies backing Fairtrade through their own brands. Traidcraft is trying to do more, for example by bringing in producers who are not already Fairtrade but are working towards it.
‘We’re raising bar for the Fairtrade mark. There’s inevitable pressure from big companies to lower standards. Sometimes it’s the right thing to do, sometimes it isn’t. It doesn’t take many bad stories.’
Barbara Crowther of the Fairtrade Foundation agreed. ‘They have included the minimum amount of Fairtrade ingredients to be certified,’ she said. ‘We need to be raising the bar. The Co-operative Group has done brilliantly, but not everyone has.’
The Co-operative’s own-brand chocolate is made with only Fairtrade beans, as is Traidcraft’s own brand, More than just chocolate, and ranges by Divine and Seed & Bean.
Ms Crowther said traceability was explicit on most Fairtrade products, but difficult to ensure when it came to chocolate. ‘We’re working on introducing a physical traceabilty rule, but it would mean we’d lose several product lines from the system,’ she said. ‘It would add expense, and some companies would stop working with us, or it would lead to loss for producers. It wouldn’t improve things for producers.’
She added that partners like Sainsburys, whose £1m Fair Development Fund is administered by Comic Relief and will support farmers’ groups to meet Fairtrade standards, could be powerful allies. ‘There is power in partnership,’ she said. ‘If we find the right people within these businesses it can take us a long way.’
Ms Crowther told delegates that 90 per cent of cocoa was grown on 5.5m small farms, but just three companies ground 40 per cent of the world’s cocoa, and five companies controlled 57 per cent of global chocolate sales to over a billion consumers.
‘We’re trying to force those sitting in the middle to adopt different principles and values,’ she said. ‘We’re looking at alternate routes, and asking what can we do with the routes that exist.
‘We want to empower small producers to negotiate. We’re trying to look at direct forms of purchasing.
‘We need to scrutinise this from inside. The mass balance rule is right. Other times it’s more negative than positive and we need to say that’s not good enough.