The latest news in the changes to Fairtrade branding seems bound to cause challenges for consumers who are keen to support the producers of the food they purchase. Several years ago I had the pleasure of joining a small group of people in Brighton & Hove as we re-launched the Fairtrade status for our City by ensuring that bodies such as the City Council, local Schools, the NHS and the Universities played their part in securing goods that were Fairly traded. My part in the group came as a consequence of my role working for Churches Together in Sussex. There is a relatively high level of awareness of Fairtrade across Churches and other faith groups and many Churches are registered as Fairtrade members. The big challenge for our group emerged when we considered ways of promoting the concept beyond the superficial step of buying fairtrade tea, coffee, chocolate, bananas and wine which for many years have been the basis for many of the UK fairtrade transactions. We considered if the Council could be persuaded to offer fairtrade School Uniforms for the City Schools and hit a snag early on in our discussions. There are limited worldwide supplies of fairly traded cotton (or at least cotton that carries the fair trade label), and most of these are snapped up by high end manufacturers who want to promote themselves as a Fairtrade supporter.
Recently Sainsbury announced that it was no longer going to sell tea with a Fairtrade label, but instead would promote its own version of the Fairly Traded concept. The tea is now sold under a fairly traded label and the decision about how to ensure that the producers receive a fair reward for the tea they grow will be determined by Sainsbury in London rather than regional and local overseers of the trade. This has received a thumbs down from the Fairtrade organisation. However a move away from the Fairtrade Label in certain product lines sold by Green and Blacks Chocolate has received a thumbs up because they are working with local producers and are using a new designation called the Cocoa Life Programme. Perhaps as we mature in our understanding of Fairtrade and as we expand our view of which products do support the producers, we will have to become more sophisticated in our search for acceptable and unacceptable labels. I happen to know a chap called Greg Valerio who almost single handedly has been promoting the value of Fairly traded Silver and Gold in use in the jewelry trade under the brand Cred based in Chichester. This could be the sort of campaign that the Daily Mail could promote in their reaction to Cobalt production in the DCR (the source of the photo above) in the last couple of days. They have been using the appalling production conditions as an argument for suggesting electric cars are not acceptable, which is clearly nonsens. Perhaps we could ask them instead to call for Fairtrade Cobalt with the same passion as Greg Valerio promotes Fairly traded Gold and Silver and then the whole world would be in a much better position on all sorts of levels.