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The Co-operative was the first UK supermarket to sell Fairtrade bananas, sugar and chocolate bars, and we’re strengthening our commitment to farmers and workers in developing countries through the scheme. By Karen Pasquali Jones
Published 7 Jul 2017
Bananas, blueberries, chocolate, coffee, sugar, wine and tea – no they’re not the ingredients for a delicious dish (though they easily could be) but some of the Fairtrade fruit, food and drinks we proudly sell in Midcounties Co-operative stores.
From juicy Argentinian Malbec to a blended tea from Kenya or a climate-change-resilient sugar crop grown in Belize, we’re not only sourcing the very best ingredients, but they all display the globally recognized Fairtrade logo that is an independent guarantee that producers the world over are getting a better deal. As a business that was conceived 150 years ago to help British skilled workers who were being forced into poverty during the industrial revolution, it was only natural that The Co-op should become Fairtrade pioneers. After all, the scheme has always addressed the issues of the world’s vulnerable farmers and exploited communities.
The Fairtrade label quickly became the ‘gold standard’ mark for ethical trading, synonymous with trust and making a real difference. In the 23 years since selling the UK’s first coffee, tea and chocolate labelled as Fairtrade, the Fairtrade Foundation has made a huge difference to the lives of more than a million farmers in impoverished countries around the world. Paying producers with the Fairtrade label gives them a minimum, guaranteed price for their goods to cover the cost of sustainable production. They are also given a premium payment to invest in social or economic development projects of their choice, which they control. This might include improving access to education and training, loans to finance home ownership or business start-ups, as well as benefits such as pensions and sick pay.
The Fairtrade Foundation has recently been in the news following some supermarkets withdrawing from the scheme. They have introduced their own ‘Fairly Traded’ labels. But these have been criticised by the Fairtrade Foundation and charities, which state this will undermine a scheme which has operated successfully for more than two decades.The controversy has led to the Fairtrade All Party Parliamentary Group stating in a parliamentary motion that they would like supermarkets to ‘remain with, and strengthen their commitment to, Fairtrade certification’.
It has also resulted in a public petition calling on the supermarkets to keep the Fairtrade mark, which has currently attracted some 100,000 signatures. Midcounties is proud to support the Fairtrade Foundation, and also supports other ethical certification schemes such as the one run by Rainforest Alliance (RA). RA awards its seal – featuring a green frog – to businesses, farms and forests that meet its rigorous environmental and social standards. Not as well-known as the Fairtrade Foundation, the New York-based organisation was formed 30 years ago to stop the uncontrolled destruction of rainforests by giving farms an economic incentive to protect them instead. It now works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods.
The alliance doesn’t offer a guaranteed or a minimum price to producers, like the Fairtrade Foundation does, although farmers can achieve premium prices depending on market demand. As we gear up for Christmas – the busiest time of year for food and drinks sales – and Fairtrade Fortnight, which starts on 26 February 2018, we will continue to promote Fairtrade lines.
What does a Fairtrade label mean?
For a product to display the Fairtrade label it has to meet the standards set by Fairtrade International, which inspects and assesses the producers supplying Fairtrade products. The producers with the Fairtrade label receive a minimum price to cover the cost of production and a premium to invest in social or economic development projects. The Fairtrade label is the world’s most trusted and well-known food certification scheme. For more information, visit fairtrade.org.uk
FACT - We have sold Fairtrade only bananas since 2012, half of which are sourced from smallholder farms – an industry first.
We now stock wine from La Riojana, Argentina’s first Fairtrade winery, which produces Co-op Fairtrade Irresistible Malbec. As well as tasting delicious, every bottle sold helps support 400 children a year from Tilimuqui get an education.
Funds from us and brought in by the vineyard meant this remote village could build a secondary school. Before this, children had to leave school at 14. Now they can stay on to get qualifications, often specialising in agricultural studies.
The Co-op also helps 20,000 tea farmers in Kenya – half of them women – who provide at least 10 per cent of the tea used in our 99 blend tea. We worked with the Fintea farmers to form co-operatives so they would have a stronger voice and access to market. Known as the Kibagenge project, which means ‘coming together as one’ in the local Kalenjin language, the Fintea Growers Co-operative has increased its income by 20 per cent. ‘Fairtrade has substantially increased our standard of living and we are assured of a better future,’ says Mrs Elizabeth Chepkwony, a Fintea tea farmer.
We can claim a lot of firsts in Fairtrade including selling the first Fairtrade sugar in 2005. Since 2016, every grain of bagged sugar sold across our range is fairly traded in partnership with Tate & Lyle, another UK first. This raises around £500,000 each year for small farmers such as the members of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) in northern Belize, who have also been supported to make their crop more resilient to climate change.
FACT - In 2015, the Co-op became the world’s largest Fairtrade wine seller after selling 50 million bottles of Fairtrade wine.
‘Fairtrade is like a door to a great opportunity within our community,’ says the BSCFA’s Alfredo Ortega. ‘Investment in the range of projects in the technical support programme is helping the cane farmers produce a higher quantity and quality of sugar cane with a positive impact on the incomes of producers,’ he adds. ‘Through the social programme, Fairtrade can help us build schools, health centres, clinics and much more. For us, Fairtrade has been a new beginning and also encourages a strong future.’
As well as stocking only Fairtrade bananas since 2012, we have been working with Coobana, a co-operative of banana workers in Panama, since 2008. We began a three-year project with members to improve access to clean water, sanitation, housing and low-cost, fuel-efficient cooking stoves. Since then, Fairtrade premiums have been used to build a canteen, a community meeting space and have helped pay for the renovation of 25 family homes.
They’ve financed scholarships for 26 Coobana members to go to university, meaning people such as Ana, a 25-year-old mother of one and a packer at the co-op, can study part-time to become a primary school teacher. Fairtrade has meant this community can get much better prices for its crop – double the amount it was getting before – which it has invested in improving the supply of fresh water through rainwater collection and covered wells, as well as building facilities such as lavatory blocks and a public laundry.
A school garden teaches children about healthy eating and the community has opened a shop giving everyone access to affordable groceries. Seeing the impact Fairtrade has on communities like this all over the world is why we will continue to champion Fairtrade. It is changing lives for the better for farmers and workers – something close to The Co-operative’s brand values and heart.
Each year businesses, schools, and campaigners show their support through Fairtrade Fortnight for the people who grow our food. In 2018, the fortnight will run from Monday 26 February until Sunday 11 March. Some of the UK’s best-known chefs will front the campaign to call for a living wage for the world’s poorest farmers and workers. At the moment, there is no standard accepted living wage for farm workers in the global south. Fairtrade Fortnight 2018 will focus on mobilising support for this, with additional focus on bananas and coffee. For more details, visit: fairtrade.org.uk