Co-op Group backs Kenyan Fairtrade tea farmers with new community resource centre

The retailers will build a new community resource centre in Kenya to support Fairtrade farmers

With Sainsbury’s dropping the Fairtrade logo for its own-label teas, and former trailblazer Green and Blacks launching a ‘Velvet Edition’ chocolate range that is neither organic nor Fairtrade, Fairtrade has had a tough time recently. However in response, the UK’s Co-op Goup has announced it will build a new community resource centre in Kenya to help support Fairtrade farmers.

The Group, which is the world’s largest Fairtrade convenience retailer, has featured the Fairtrade Mark on its entire own brand tea range since 2008. In May the retailer switched to buying all cocoa for its own-brand products from Fairtrade producers. Its entire own brand sugar range is also Fairtrade certified.

For this new project, the Co-op Group is working with tea co-operative Fintea to support its Fairtrade tea farmers and provide communities with training, counselling, a library and access to the internet. The facility will give 50,000 people across the Fintea tea growing community access to educational, recreational, cultural, health and lifelong learning opportunities.

The project will be funded through the Group’s Growingstories online campaign. The retailer invested in a producer development fund each time the community network was shared through social media, raising money to help communities in developing countries.

“We’ve seen that there might be trouble brewing in the Fairtrade tea market and it is important to demonstrate that we’re still behind the farmers,” said Brad Hill, Fairtrade strategy manager at the Group

“As a long-standing supporter of Fairtrade, we want to show how much we care about the farmers we work with.

“We are delighted to recommit to the Fairtrade Mark, which producers continue to tell us is the most effective certification for them in delivering business and community benefits as well as security through a transparent minimum price and the all-important Fairtrade Premium which they collectively decide how to invest.”

Related: Is Fairtrade in trouble: Sainsbury’s is going solo – will others follow?

Mr Hill added that while Fintea is now a successful business, supplying freely into the tea market, the special relationship between the retailer and the tea co-operative goes back to the very beginning of a co-operative development project that the Group helped set up to provide Fairtrade market access to thousands of marginalised farmers.

“This year we have also launched new producer support projects in Cote d’Ivoire, Argentina and Colombia and we will continue to drive Fairtrade forward for the people behind the products as well as our customers and members who continue to seek out the reassurance of the recognised and trusted independent Fairtrade Mark,” he said.

The move has also been welcomed by Euan Venters, commercial director at the Fairtrade Foundation. “Congratulations to the Co-op for helping brew a sweeter future for tea farmers,” he said.

“As long-standing supporters of Fairtrade, this move yet again emphasises their commitment to producers and sustainable business. Our work with the Co-op on their cocoa commitment as well as tea illustrates how Fairtrade is constantly innovating, providing impact for farmers and exploring new ways to work with our business partners.”