Over the festive season our family got through quite a few bottles of Fairtrade wine from the Co-op! The first fairly traded wines in the early 2000s were co-branded with Traidcraft, where I was then chief exec, and which was at that time the only UK importer of wine from fair trade producers. The initiative was so successful that it proved the business case for developing the international standards required for a Fairtrade mark on wine as a new category, opening up a much wider potential market. It was a great example of Co-op and Traidcraft pioneering a new area of fair trade together.
Today the Co-op accounts for two thirds of all Fairtrade wine sold in the UK, and indeed we represent almost one third of the total global sales. That’s over 8 million bottles a year – or 16 bottles a minute! A huge success.
In November Mondelez announced that bars of Cadbury Dairy Milk would cease to carry the Fairtrade mark, and that instead they would be using their own in-house scheme to help cocoa farmers. It’s a disappointing move, and the first time the Fairtrade mark will have come off a significant product. But will consumers really trust a scheme run by a major global multinational? Won’t they get confused by yet another logo making ethical claims, when the Fairtrade mark is already one of the best recognised and most trusted logos in the UK?
I suspect this will be prove to be something of an own goal for the Cadbury brand, making even Nestle look more ethical than Cadbury for the first time – given the fact that KitKats carry the mark! So much for Cadbury’s much vaunted Quaker heritage. This has the hallmark an initiative driven from a global HQ looking to cut costs, and not realising how much better recognised and valued Fairtrade is in the UK market than anywhere else. So here’s hoping the decision will get reversed as the implications sink in.
But the big question people are asking me is: will the Co-op be tempted to follow suit and downgrade its commitment to Fairtrade? I really don’t think that’s going to happen – and I would certainly fight hard against any proposal that might be made to that effect. Fairtrade values are so well-aligned with the ethics that underpin the Co-op Way, and with our commitment to working with small producers and co-operatives, that it would make no sense for us to appear to move away from such standards. And we know that our members consistently and strongly voice their support for Fairtrade. Indeed, if other companies choose to move away from supporting Fairtrade (which I hope they will not, as it would clearly be bad news for Fairtrade producers around the world) it could even play to the Co-op’s benefit by underlining the real commitment to ethical trade that differentiates us from so many other food industry players.
So rather than seeing this as the start of a slippery slope, I think we should look forward to further announcements in Fairtrade Fortnight at the end of February, which will underline the Co-op’s determination to do the right thing and support the millions of farmers around the world who are daily benefiting from the sale of Fairtrade products. And that will be worth opening another bottle or two of Fairtrade wine to celebrate!